Case Studies of Coronavirus-Related Encephalitis Are Growing

Encephalitis, or brain inflammation, is being linked more and more to cases of COVID-19 in patients of all ages.

Video Transcript

AVA EASTON: Eight out of 10 people don't know what encephalitis is, and we need to change that.

LINDSEY THEIS: Encephalitis, brain inflammation, is being linked more and more to cases of COVID-19 patients of all ages.

AVA EASTON: Encephalitis has high death rates. Unfortunately, in many of those who survived the condition, they're left with an injury to the brain.

LINDSEY THEIS: New research looks at brain mapping of COVID patients and found the neurological symptoms aren't caused by the coronavirus directly invading the brain, per se, but instead, it's part of a set of bodily reactions from COVID-related inflammation.

OMAR SIDDIQI: You get the really, really bad pneumonia because you're getting so much inflammation in your lungs. The same thing happens in the brain.

LINDSEY THEIS: There are still some unknowns, where exactly in the brain COVID related inflammation happens, but one thing that is known, what symptoms took like.

OMAR SIDDIQI: So it can be, you know, mild disorientation, problems with word-finding, all the way up to being comatose, you know, in the most serious forms.

LINDSEY THEIS: Another big unknown, exactly how many COVID patients are impacted by encephalitis. One San Francisco expert who specializes in neurology and infectious diseases told me it's a minority. Patients are often treated with anti-inflammatory or anti-viral drugs, and experts say encephalitis is easy to spot with clinical tests like MRI spinal taps.

- COVID patients, because they have so many other problems, they don't get spinal taps like right away. It might be like two weeks into their hospitalization.

LINDSEY THEIS: Experts are calling for more awareness and testing, but those tests aren't cheap, and often not a priority when a COVID patient is hospitalized.

OMAR SIDDIQI: If you actually don't recognize it quickly, that can cause a lot of damage and cause, you know, cognitive impairment among other things, and even death.

LINDSEY THEIS: Lindsey Theis, Newsy, San Francisco.