24 Apr 2020

Neurological complications of COVID-19

Dr Robb Wesselingh in the lab
What does the coronavirus do to the nervous system?

The RACGP story by Doug Hendrie features comment from Dr Robb Wesselingh, Alfred Health neurologist and PhD student in Central Clinical School's Department of Neuroscience, on the emerging evidence that the new coronavirus can affect the brain and nervous system.

Neurological issues were recorded in more than a third of coronavirus patients in an early case series from Wuhan published in JAMA Neurology.

Dr Wesselingh said that this early study could overestimate the chance of a coronavirus-linked neurological condition because its cohort was already very unwell. However, the virus also directly invades the nervous system (which is why loss of smell, a symptom on the COVID-19 checklist, sounds a warning bell - he said that the olfactory bulb is a common route for viruses to enter the brain), causing neural damage. It also precipitates a huge immune response known as a 'cytokine storm', which itself is immediately dangerous. Longer term, such neuro-inflammation can lead to other issues.

Quoted in the RACGP story, Dr Wesselingh said, ‘Because of the focus on respiratory issues for coronavirus patients, these other issues can be neglected. Respiratory issues are not the only thing this virus can cause.’

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