What Does Coronavirus Do to the Brain?
Neurologists around the world say that a small subset of patients with COVID-19 are developing serious impairments of the brain.
Although fever, cough and difficulty breathing are the typical hallmarks of infection with the new coronavirus, some patient’s exhibit altered mental status, or encephalopathy, a catchall term for brain disease or dysfunction that can have many underlying reasons, as well as other serious conditions. These neurological syndromes join other unusual symptoms, such as diminished sense of smell and taste as well as heart ailments.
Why do younger people with a healthy immune system sometimes succumb to novel coronavirus? Insights from studies of novel coronavirus point to the possibility that the virus may shut down breathing by infecting the brain.
The vast majority of people infected with novel coronavirus, or SARS‐CoV‐2, experience only mild to moderate symptoms or no symptoms at all. Reported mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19—the illness caused by the virus—include fever, dry cough, loss of smell and taste, sore throat, leg pain, headache, stomach ache, diarrhea, and fatigue. In more severe cases, patients present with pneumonia and severe difficulties breathing (dyspnea). A small fraction of people become so gravely affected that they require a ventilator to help them breathe.
While the elderly and people with an underlying medical condition are at a higher risk of developing serious symptoms and dying from novel coronavirus, younger people without any known pre-existing situation have also succumbed to severe forms of the viral disease. This raises the question: What—besides a compromised immune system—can cause infected individuals to develop severe symptoms?