nurse and respiratory

A nurse and respiratory therapist attend to a coronavirus patient in the Intensive Care Unit of Arrowhead Regional Medical Center on Dec. 23, 2020, in Colton, California. IRFAN KHAN/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS



The novel coronavirus doesn’t just attack the brain, new research shows. It may take up residence and “hide” there.

And, like Jason in the unending stream of “Friday the 13th” movies, it could come back.

Researchers at Georgia State University measured the levels of SARS-CoV-2 – the pathogen that causes COVID-19 – in the brains of mice that had been infected via their nasal passages and had developed severe illness. They found virus levels 1,000 times higher there than in other organs, they said in a study published in the journal Viruses.

The team is now puzzling out the implications of the new findings, which showed the elevated brain levels of coronavirus five to six days after initial infection, correlating to the onset of symptoms such as labored breathing, disorientation and weakness. In contrast, the virus began declining in the animals’ lungs around day three, the researchers said.

Neurological symptoms

While the novel coronavirus’s attacks and effects on the brain and nervous system have been documented, the researchers surmised that the high levels of the virus in the brain could potentially explain persistent neurological symptoms in some so called long-haulers – people who remain sick long after the virus is supposedly gone.

Not all COVID infections make it to the brain. But among the ones that do, it might stay there.

“The brain is one of the regions where virus likes to hide,” assistant professor and study lead author Mukesh Kumar said in a statement. “That’s why we’re seeing severe disease and all these multiple symptoms like heart disease, stroke and all these long-haulers with loss of smell, loss of taste. All of this has to do with the brain rather than with the lungs.”

Not just respiratory

It could also shed light on why patients who appear to be getting better and whose lungs were beginning to function again might suddenly relapse and enter a sharp decline.

Viral infections that make their way into the brain in general can cause inflammation that reverberates throughout the body, and the novel coronavirus is no exception.

“Our thinking that it’s more of a respiratory disease is not necessarily true,” Kumar said in the statement. “Once it infects the brain it can affect anything because the brain is controlling your lungs, the heart, everything. The brain is a very sensitive organ. It’s the central processor for everything.”

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