Having infected nearly 10 million Americans as of November 8, the COVID-19 pandemic has
put a large strain on individuals psychologically and necessitated mental health treatment and prevention as a public health priority. An often overlooked side to the pandemic, however, is the possible neuropsychiatric effects that can occur after recovery from SARS CoV-2 infection. Neuropsychiatric effects refer to mental disorders linked to diseases that affect the nervous system.
A team of researchers from the University of California, San Diego published an article in the
Brain, Behaviour, Immunity journal this May discussing possible causes and evidence for a
variety of neuropsychiatric sequelae post-SARS CoV-2 infection. Among the neuropsychiatric
manifestations discovered by the researchers were psychotic disorders (e.g. schizophrenia),
demyelinating and neuromuscular complications (autoimmune and viral interactions with nerves and their protective coverings), neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Parkinson’s Disease) and psychological disorders (e.g. PTSD, depression). While there is not enough medical and scientific evidence to definitively link and explain such neuropsychiatric outcomes as they pertain to SARS CoV-2, previous pandemics support this hypothesis.
After the influenza pandemics in the 18th and 19th centuries and, more recently, the H1N1 flu and MERS-CoV viruses, increases in neuropsychiatric symptoms were observed post-infection. In Wuhan, China, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, 40 out of 88 patients with serious infections had neurological symptoms. Additionally, a fifth of those who died from COVID-19 in the initial Wuhan outbreak were found to have encephalopathies, or diseases of the brain influencing its structure and function. This evidence suggests that there may be an underlying relationship between neuropsychiatric conditions and COVID-19. Due to the widespreadness and virulence of this virus, it is important to further research and understand possible effects COVID-19 has on the nervous system. Since neuropsychiatric disorders may present themselves long after infection, it is imperative for physicians to monitor recovered COVID-19 patients for neuropsychiatric symptoms over a long period of time. Such research will allow the medical community to better respond to future pandemics by improving patient treatment and therapeutics.
Troyer, Emily A et al. “Are we facing a crashing wave of neuropsychiatric sequelae of COVID-19? Neuropsychiatric symptoms and potential immunologic mechanisms.” Brain, behavior, and immunity vol. 87 (2020): 34-39. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2020.04.027