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Sure Signs COVID Has "Invaded" Your Brain, Says Study

“Effects could last for a very long time,” say the researchers.

A year ago, when the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Wuhan, China, health experts considered it a respiratory virus, mainly attacking and damaging the lungs and heart. However, as the number of cases increased and the death toll started piling up, they soon realized that highly infectious disease can wreak havoc on nearly every organ—including the brain.

Mysterious symptoms, including brain fog, fatigue, loss of sense of taste and smell, and even stroke, seizures, and delirium were reported by patients. And, some of them were still experiencing these manifestations of the virus for months after their initial infection. Now, researchers may be closer to understanding why people are suffering cognitive effects of the virus. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus

The Coronavirus Invades the Brain, Say Researchers

A new study published Dec. 16 in Nature Neuroscience has identified that the spike protein of the virus can cross over into the blood-brain barrier, in mice at least. This would mean that SARS-CoV-2 can quite literally invade the brain.

In a press release accompanying the study corresponding author William A. Banks, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a Puget Sound Veterans Affairs Healthcare System physician and researcher explained that the said spike protein, also referred to as the S1 protein, dictates which cells the virus can enter. Usually, the virus does the same thing as its binding protein, he explained, and can cause damage as they detach from the virus and cause inflammation. "The S1 protein likely causes the brain to release cytokines and inflammatory products," he said.

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Signs COVID Has Invaded Your Brain

This intense inflammation is described as a "cytokine storm" and was identified in COVID-19 cases by physicians early on. In short, it is an overreaction of the immune system in an attempt to kill the invading virus. Hence, the patient is left with: 

  • Brain Fog: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has described this "brain fog" as "difficulty concentrating." It can strike those with COVID-19 and is a primary symptom of Post-COVID Syndrome, which affects a reported 10% or more of those who get COVID.
  • Fatigue: The most common symptom of Post-COVID Syndrome, this fatigue can be soul sucking, and resemble that of myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
  • Other Cognitive Issues: Doctors have reported seeing patients suffering from hallucinations and delirium. "Delirium is a syndrome that is characterized by the acute onset of cerebral dysfunction with a change or fluctuation in baseline mental status, as well as inattention and either disorganized thinking or an altered level of consciousness," reports Pharmacy Times.
  • Shortness of Breath: Knowing that this same reaction occurs with the HIV virus, Banks and his team wanted to see if it was also happening with SARS CoV-2. "It was like déjà vu," he revealed. Jacob Raber, a professor in the departments of Behavioral Neuroscience, Neurology, and Radiation Medicine, and his teams at Oregon Health & Science University, added that their research can explain COVID-19 complications. "We know that when you have the COVID infection you have trouble breathing and that's because there's infection in your lung, but an additional explanation is that the virus enters the respiratory centers of the brain and causes problems there as well," said Banks.

The researchers also found that the process was faster in men than women, which could explain why men are more susceptible to severe infection than women. 

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Long-Term Damage Is Possible—So Stay Safe

Banks noted that the impact COVID has on the brain may not be fleeting. "You do not want to mess with this virus," Raber said. "Many of the effects that the COVID virus has could be accentuated or perpetuated or even caused by viruses getting in the brain and those effects could last for a very long time."

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned here—cognitive issues, trouble breathing, brain fog—seek medical attention.

And all the more reason to follow the public health fundamentals and help end this surge, no matter where you live—wear a face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah