Can coronavirus attack the human brain? Scientists race to answer

A little bit-understood virus and a human organ whose mysteries we’re but to unravel. You would not need the two mixing. Especially at a time of a pandemic that’s overwhelming well being infrastructure and pulverising economies throughout the world. But, that may be taking place.

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which leapt from obscurity to worldwide infamy in a matter of months, has develop into certainly one of the gravest well being crises confronted by humanity. The virus, which has shocked scientists by its speedy unfold, causes a number of well being issues principally associated to the human respiratory system.

However, there’s a rising physique of proof suggesting that the extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (Sars-CoV-2, the official title of the new coronavirus) could also be affecting sufferers’ brains as effectively.

Three case research, printed over the previous couple of weeks, have linked Sars-CoV-2 to neurological problems. Loss of style or odor, a sign of attainable neurological issues, is quick rising as a symptom of Covid-19, the illness brought on by Sars-CoV-2. And, there have been stories of Covid-19 sufferers exhibiting brain-related signs reminiscent of headache.

Full coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak

All these underline simply how little we find out about the novel coronavirus and, extra importantly, increase the query: Can the novel coronavirus attack the mind?


Last week, docs in the United States reported the case of a girl airline employee in her late 50s who was admitted to a hospital after complaining of signs related to the novel coronavirus — fever, cough and physique ache. Laboratory checks identified the girl with Covid-19.

The prognosis didn’t finish there. Another set of signs noticed in the affected person — confusion, lethargy and disorientation — prompted her docs to conduct imaging checks, which revealed mind harm. Doctors identified her with acute necrotising encephalopathy (ANE), a uncommon type of mind irritation normally seen in younger kids, and handled her accordingly.

Three case research, printed over the previous couple of weeks, have linked Sars-CoV-2 to neurological problems. Loss of style or odor, a sign of attainable neurological issues, is quick rising as a symptom of Covid-19, the illness brought on by Sars-CoV-2. And, there have been stories of Covid-19 sufferers exhibiting brain-related signs reminiscent of headache.

In their case report (read the full report here), the docs famous that this was, to their data, the first occasion of the novel coronavirus being linked to ANE. The docs went on to advocate that specialists be careful for “this presentation [of ANE] among patients presenting with Covid-19 and [an] altered mental status”.


The same case was reported from China the place docs got here throughout a 61-year-old girl who complained of weak spot in her legs and extreme fatigue. The girl initially didn’t exhibit any signs related to the novel coronavirus.

The girl was admitted to a hospital the place her situation deteriorated. She started dropping power in her legs and arms and confirmed a decreased capability to sense contact. After conducting checks, her docs identified her with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological dysfunction that causes the immune system to attack the physique’s nerves.

Sars-CoV-2 an infection may need been liable for the improvement of Guillain-Barré syndrome

– Doctors who handled a affected person with neurological signs

Days later, the girl instantly developed cough and fever, prompting her docs to check her for the novel coronavirus. The check got here again optimistic and he or she was identified with Covid-19 as well as to her neurological sickness. The girl was handled for each Covid-19 and Guillain-Barré syndrome, and was discharged after a month in hospital.

In their case report, printed in the journal The Lancet, the woman’s doctors speculated that the “Sars-CoV-2 infection might have been responsible for the development of Guillain-Barré syndrome”.


In one other case from China, a 56-year-old man identified with Covid-19 got here into the focus of docs after he failed to reply to common therapy. The man was transferred to an Intensive Care Unit for extra thorough medical care. In the ICU, the man started displaying signs linked to decreased consciousness.

The man’s docs conducting mind imaging checks, which revealed no abnormalities. The docs then determined to look at his cerebrospinal fluid, a liquid substance present in the mind and spinal wire. The examination helped the doctors diagnose him with brain inflammation.

What was attention-grabbing was that the docs found the presence of novel coronavirus particles in the man’s cerebrospinal fluid. The man was handled for mind irritation and Covid-19, and discharged after round a month.


These case stories add to whispers which might be rising louder every single day. Loss of odor or style, which might have neurological causes, is being considered as a new sign of Covid-19. There can also be anecdotal proof of novel coronavirus sufferers exhibiting neurological signs reminiscent of complications or dizziness.

Though scary, the concept that the novel coronavirus is infecting the mind is just not solely new. Research has already proven that the bigger human coronavirus household is ready to attack and infect the central nervous system, which consists of the mind and the spinal wire.

In 2000, a research revealed the presence of two frequent human coronaviruses in the brains of the deceased sufferers who had suffered from neurological problems

This household accommodates seven family, all of whom are identified to infect human beings. These embrace 4 frequent coronaviruses that trigger gentle diseases and three uncommon strains — Mers-CoV, Sars-CoV and Sars-CoV-2 — that trigger extra extreme and doubtlessly lethal illnesses.

In 2000, Canadian researchers undertook an examination of bodies of patients who had suffered from neurological problems. The research revealed the presence of two frequent human coronaviruses in the brains of the deceased sufferers.

Of the 90 our bodies examined, researchers discovered proof of 1 human coronavirus (HCoV) kind in 44% of sufferers and the different HCoV in one other 23%. In their report, the authors mentioned the findings of their research have been a “strong indication” of the coronaviruses’ capability to invade the human nervous system.


Sars-CoV-2, the virus behind the present world pandemic, shares genetic similarities to Sars-CoV, the coronavirus that triggered a world epidemic in the early 2000s. Back then, docs reported coming throughout Sars sufferers with brain-related signs and scientists reported discovering proof of the human nervous system being contaminated by the virus.

In 2005, a pair years after the epidemic ended, Chinese researchers managed to isolate a strain of Sars-CoV from the mind of a Sars affected person. The researchers mentioned their findings supplied “direct evidence” of the Sars virus’s capability to infect the human mind.

Later in 2008, scientists in the United States confirmed that the Sars virus, when launched in genetically modified mice, managed to enter the rodents’ nervous system by infecting nerve endings present in their nose and travelling upwards into the mind.

These and different comparable research have shaped the bedrock of a rising perception that the new coronavirus, which is actually the Sars virus’s stronger cousin, could also be infecting human brains.


A paper authored by Chinese researchers earlier this 12 months famous that Sars-CoV had been proven to attack human brains and raised the idea that a few of the present Covid-19 deaths may very well be brought on by neurological infections. The researchers mentioned that similarities between the novel coronavirus and the Sars virus made it worth exploring whether or not Sars-CoV-2’s potential to invade the nervous system was “partially responsible for the acute respiratory failure of patients with Covid-19”.

Coronaviruses are named for the mushroom-shaped spikes on their our bodies that give them a crown-like appearence (Getty photograph)

Another paper by a bunch of Chinese and Japanese scientists took off from earlier analysis to speculate about the ways in which Sars-CoV-2 could be infecting human brains. One idea put forth by the researchers is comparable to what was seen in mice in the 2008 Sars research: The novel coronavirus may very well be getting into the spinal wire by infecting nerve endings in the physique after which travelling to the mind.

Another of their theories is that the novel coronavirus attaches itself to a selected ‘receptor’ current in the protecting fluid that surrounds the spinal wire. Once connected to the receptor, the idea goes, the virus permeates into and infects the central nervous system.


The human mind is usually referred to as the final frontier in medical analysis. We’re but to perceive the fundamentals of this extremely advanced organ. And so, if the mind is changing into the goal of a lethal pathogen towards which humanity is at the moment defenceless, it could have debilitating penalties.

Don’t get us unsuitable. Right now, there is no such thing as a definitive proof to say that the novel coronavirus is infecting human brains; most papers on the matter, together with the ones talked about above, name for additional analysis on the topic.

But the undeniable fact that the novel coronavirus’s shut cousin was ready to infect the human central nervous system in the previous and that some Covid-19 sufferers have proven neurological signs in the current, makes it a topic that we’d like to get to the backside of quickly. Very quickly.

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