While long-term COVID-19 can cause brain fog, erectile dysfunction and hair loss, experts say the coronavirus could also contribute to another health condition: deadly brain disease.
Doctors from Mount Sinai Queens’ said it’s “highly likely” COVID contributed to a New York City man developing fatal prion disease.
Two months before he was admitted to the hospital, the 62-year-old Queens local started to drool and move at a slower pace, the doctors wrote in an article published Thursday by the American Journal of Case Reports.
The unidentified man was only taken to the medical facility after he was found at home after a fall, unable to walk and confabulating, with intermittent, brief rapid involuntary jerks.
“On admission, he was found to be COVID-19 positive, but was . . . asymptomatic aside from the typical COVID respiratory manifestations,” the case study read.
Medics performed a series of tests on the man, including CT and MRI scans of the brain, “both of which were repeated twice and were normal without any diffusion restriction.”
However, the man’s condition continued to deteriorate.
Doctors of internal medicine at Mount Sinai Queens believe COVID-19 was “highly likely” in either causing or contributing to a New York City man’s fatal prion disease. Getty Images/iStockphoto
“Approximately 3 weeks into hospitalization, the patient became progressively mute and had difficulty swallowing soft foods, requiring PEG [percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy] tube placement,” the doctors wrote of the need for the feeding tube. “He subsequently became spastic with severe pain on passive flexion-extension. Six weeks after admission, the patient was declared dead.”
They subsequently determined that his case “fulfilled the probable diagnostic criteria for diagnosing prion disease,” but admitted that an actual diagnosis is “challenging by itself, as definitive diagnosis relies on clinical neurodegeneration.”
Prion diseases are “a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals,” according to a definition from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“They are distinguished by long incubation periods, characteristic spongiform changes associated with neuronal loss, and a failure to induce inflammatory response.”
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a the most well-known prion disorder, known for causing unique changes in brain tissue, affecting muscle coordination, thinking and memory. There are about 350 cases per year in the US.
“Whether COVID-19 contributed to his prion disease or resulted in the clinical correlation cannot be determined,” the doctors cautioned, saying further studies were needed. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Given the patient’s positive COVID-19 test, the doctors conducted research and were able to identify four cases comparable to their own where a person was diagnosed with prion disorder after COVID-19 infection.
That fact has prompted the experts to hypothesize that the novel coronavirus could have contributed in some way to the development of the brain disease.
“Whether COVID-19 contributed to his prion disease or resulted in the clinical correlation cannot be determined,” they cautioned, saying further studies were needed.
“While such cases are highly likely to be due to COVID-19, there is no definite evidence beyond coincidental findings.”