In this episode, we learn more about one of the leading problems associated with long COVID-19. Those who have been infected with the virus are at increased risk for a range of neurological conditions in the first year after an infection. Research conducted at the School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System has found that strokes, cognitive and memory problems, depression, anxiety and migraine headaches are more common in people who have had COVID-19 than those who haven’t. The most common neurological symptom, called brain fog, makes it more difficult for some people to remember things such as names, daily tasks or where they parked the car.
Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, a clinical epidemiologist, says that since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has contributed to more than 40 million new cases of neurological disorders worldwide. Infections even have been associated with movement disorders — from tremors and involuntary muscle movements to epileptic seizures — hearing and vision problems, and issues with balance and coordination.
We also speak with Robyn Klein, MD, PhD, director of the Center of Neuroimmunology & Neuroinfectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Her team studied the brains of hamsters and brain tissue from people who died of COVID-19 infections and found that although the virus doesn’t seem to get into neurons directly, it does increase the number of immune cells, called microglia, in brain structures important to learning and memory, potentially explaining why some of those structures in the brain may not function as well during and after COVID-19 infections.
The podcast, “Show Me the Science,” is produced by WashU Medicine Marketing & Communications at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.