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: a deadly brain disease.
Doctors at Mount Sinai Queens said it is “very likely” that COVID contributed to a New York City man developing a deadly prion disease.
Two months before being admitted to the hospital, the 62-year-old Queens man began drooling and moving at a slower pace, doctors wrote in an article published Thursday in the American Journal of Case Reports.
The unidentified man was only taken to the medical center after he was found at home after a fall, unable to walk and conspiring, with rapid, intermittent and brief involuntary jerks.
“Upon admission, it was discovered that he was positive for COVID-19, but he was. . . asymptomatic, apart from the typical respiratory manifestations of COVID,” the case study reads.
Doctors performed a series of tests on the man, including CT scans 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.
Internal medicine doctors at Mount Sinai Queens believe it was “very likely” that COVID-19 caused or contributed to a New York City man’s fatal prion disease. Getty Images/iStockphoto
“Approximately 3 weeks after hospitalization, the patient became progressively mute and had difficulty swallowing soft foods, requiring PEG. [percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy] tube placement,” the doctors wrote about 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 later determined that his case “met the probable diagnostic criteria for diagnosing prion disease,” but admitted that an actual diagnosis is “challenging in itself, as the definitive diagnosis is based 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 an inability to induce an inflammatory response.”
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is the most well-known prion disorder, known to cause unique changes in brain tissue that affect muscle coordination, thinking, and memory. There are about 350 cases per year in the US.
“It cannot be determined whether COVID-19 contributed to his prion disease or caused the clinical correlation,” the doctors cautioned, saying more studies were needed. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Since the patient’s COVID-19 test was positive, doctors conducted research and were able to identify four cases comparable to theirs in which a person was diagnosed with a prion disorder after COVID-19 infection.
This fact has led experts to hypothesize that the new coronavirus could have contributed in some way to the development of the brain disease.
“It cannot be determined whether COVID-19 contributed to his prion disease or caused the clinical correlation,” they cautioned, saying more studies were needed.
“While these cases are very likely due to COVID-19, there is no definitive evidence beyond coincidental findings.”