Written by: Alina Yu
Despite the allocation of multiple vaccines across the world, people around the world are still infected or becoming infected by the invisible Sars-CoV-2 virus. As scientists and researchers scramble to find more answers as to how this virus cohabitates with us and how to eliminate it in the near future, doctors and nurses are on the front lines witnessing a multitude of patients with varying symptoms and degrees of illness. The CDC has been compiling a list of these symptoms or indicators of infection from the get-go, from fever to loss of taste/smell; however, there is a new symptom, or really residual effect, that has been emerging amongst many: brain fog. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has stated that she herself is suffering from this phenomenon, and many of my fellow students have reported their minds “blank” and haziness in the brain after their own ride of Covid-19. So what exactly is this “brain fog” that lingers after a run with this virus and do you possibly have it?
Amongst the lingering side effects of Covid-19, multiple patients have reported feeling fuzzy or foggy in thinking, now termed “brain fog.” In past non-pandemic years, brain fog has been studied as a compilation of symptoms from reduced cognition and an inability to concentrate to loss of memory. The effect has also been connected to multiple disorders such as those of the autism spectrum, celiac disease, and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have also termed damage to the brain due to disease that results in a change in brain function as encephalopathy, with “brain fog” becoming a more popular lay term. Needless to say, this is not a new medical discovery: brain fog has existed as a symptom or long term effect of multiple medical conditions. The only point of contention then amongst scientists is what exactly causes this cloudiness in the brain?
According to a new study led by Dr. David Nauen of Johns Hopkins University, cell clusters in the brains of people who had Covid-19 are a possible explanation for the lack of cognition post-treatment. Viruses are known to affect the brain, not just acutely in an organ system; thus, the possibility of Sars-CoV-2 to infiltrate and rewire the brain is highly likely. To further investigate, Nauen and his team analyzed brains of passed Covid-19 patients and found cells that normally live in bone marrow in tiny blood vessels in the brain. This unusual finding is a potential doorway into learning how our current virus impacts brain neurology but also understanding long-term side effects patients may experience after their exposure to covid.
Other scientists are also aiming to find additional hints to the cause of brain fog for covid patients. Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) in New York City have found inflammatory molecules in cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord that provides a cushion for support. While it is not known exactly how these molecules are connected to the symptoms like loss of memory, the team at MSK predicts they could be the target of anti-inflammatory drugs that treat brain fog. They found that these molecules, called cytokines, had a similar effect to those released from a specific immunotherapy treatment for blood cancer that cause inflammation in the brain. Inflammation is a way for our bodies to defend themselves from outsiders like viruses and pathogens; however, along the way vital processes like neurological function could be altered. The connections between our immune system and nervous system are continuously being studied by scientists all over the world and provide yet another way to better grasp an understanding of the many long-term effects of Covid-19.
Overall, the infamous brain fog, which I have often attributed to my forgetfulness despite not having the virus, is a long-term effect of Covid-19 that many patients are experiencing. Neurological connections are being impacted by the invasion of the virus not only in their bodies but also their brains, and the impact of the virus is being studied daily by researchers to truly understand how infection interacts and alters our nervous system. If you have tested positive for Covid-19 and have experienced symptoms like short-term memory loss, lack of mental clarity, confusion, inability to concentrate on tasks, please consult a physician for further treatment.