“This study is the first to show that the presence of neurological symptoms, particularly stroke and confused or altered thinking, may indicate a more serious course of illness, even when pulmonary problems aren’t severe,” the study’s co-author Dr. David Altschul, chief of neurovascular surgery at Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said in a news release.
“Hospitals can use this knowledge to prioritize treatment and, hopefully, save more lives during this pandemic.”
In concluding their findings, Altschul and his team were able to analyze data on more than 4,700 coronavirus-positive patients who were admitted to the Montefiore system between March 1 and April 16.
Of those admitted, 581 patients, or 12 percent, were suffering from neurological issues serious enough for doctors to order brain imaging. These individuals were later compared to a control group of more than 1,700 coronavirus patients of similar age and disease severity who didn’t exhibit any neurological symptoms.
Among patients who had brain imaging, fifty-five of them were diagnosed with stroke and 258 dealt with confusion or altered thinking ability.
When later compared to the control group, patients with stroke were more than twice as likely to die (49 percent versus 24 percent) and patients with confusion also had significantly higher risk of death (40 percent versus 33 percent).
The researchers added that the majority of patients who had stroke didn’t have hypertension or any other underlying risk factors for stroke.
“This highly unusual finding agrees with other studies of people with COVID-19 in suggesting that infection with the novel coronavirus is itself a risk factor for stroke,” Altschul said.
The new research seemingly supports other recent studies that show the coronavirus having the ability to affect human brains.
Earlier this month, according to a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, a team of researchers discovered that spike proteins can, in fact, cross the blood-brain barrier in mice. This finding strongly suggests that the coronavirus can also enter the human brain.
The spike protein, also known as the S1 protein, helps dictate which cells the virus can enter. The researchers noted that proteins like S1 can cause inflammation and damage as they detach from the virus.
“The S1 protein likely causes the brain to release cytokines and inflammatory products,” the study’s lead author William Banks, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said in a news release.
Another recent study out of Germany revealed that coronavirus has the ability to reach the human brain after being inhaled through a person’s nose.
The researchers from Charité—Universitätsmedizin Berlin were able to analyze postmortem tissue samples from dozens of coronavirus-positive patients, and what they eventually found was that the coronavirus can enter the brain via nerve cells in the olfactory mucosa located in the upper part of the nasal cavity.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.