Milder COVID-19 infection could still leave brain with lasting impact: UK study

Mild cases of COVID-19 could also have a lasting impact on the human brain, according to a recent study.

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In August, researchers at the University of Oxford in England and Imperial College London wrote that brain imaging of the British Biobank – including data from over 40,000 people in the UK, dating back to 2014 – showed differences in gray matter thickness between those who had been infected with COVID-19 and those who had not.

The team said that using both hypothesis-based and exploratory approaches, with multiple comparison correction for the false discovery rate, they identified 68 and 67 significant longitudinal effects, respectively, associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection in the brain.

In the COVID-19 group, gray matter tissue was reduced in the frontal and temporal lobes, and in the general population, changes in gray matter volume were greater than normal in the 401s who had been infected.

The results for those who had illness severe enough to be hospitalized were the same as for those who had suffered a milder infection, with a marked reduction in gray matter thickness in both cases.

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Additionally, participants infected with SARS-CoV-2 also showed greater cognitive decline during testing and were slower to process information compared to those who did not contract the virus – a control group of 384 people.

The researchers matched the groups based on age, sex, baseline test date and study location, in addition to other common risk factors for the disease.

Notably, the study has not yet been peer reviewed and a disclaimer indicates that it should not be used to guide clinical practice.

While it is too early to draw conclusions about the long-term impacts of coronavirus-related changes, these findings have raised concerns about its effects on biological changes, including aging.

In a recent study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agency found that adults with COVID-19 may have other long-lasting health problems like fatigue, loss of smell or taste, and shortness of breath.

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Symptoms could last a month or more, the CDC warned, and included cognitive dysfunction in the form of forgetfulness, memory loss or “brain fog.”


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Edward L. Robinett

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