Doctors Start to See Psychosis in COVID Patients

Other viruses, including the 1918 flu, have caused similar episodes
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 28, 2020 4:18 PM CST
Updated Jan 2, 2021 7:51 AM CST
Doctors Report Limited Instances of Psychosis in COVID Patients
Dr. Mher Onanyan tends to a COVID-19 patient at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday.   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

There's evidence of more harm done by COVID-19: new-onset psychosis. Patients who have had the virus but have no history of mental illness are suffering from serious psychotic symptoms, including frightening and potentially dangerous delusions. The number of affected patients is not high, the New York Times reports, but the problem is being reported around the world. "My guess is any place that is seeing COVID is probably seeing this," said a doctor at Duke University Medical Center. Scattered cases of psychosis and mania have been linked to other viruses before, including SARS and MERS. "We think that it's not unique to COVID," said a psychiatrist who suggested studying those cases might shed light on current ones. A study on a National Institutes of Health site in September said the new coronavirus can increase risk of suicidal behavior.

A 42-year-old patient had visions of her children being murdered, and she said she'd thought up a plan to kill them herself. A 36-year-old tried to pass her children through the pick-up window at a fast-food restaurant to prevent their kidnapping. A 30-year-old man thought his cousin was going to kill him, so he tried to strangle the relative first. The cause of the episodes isn't known, but it could be linked to the body's immune response or surges of inflammation after infection. Most of the patients with such episodes didn't become severely ill with the virus, per the Times. Among the unusual factors is the age of the patients; most are in their 30s, 40s, or 50s, while schizophrenia usually begins with younger people and dementia with older. Also, some of the patients realized that something was wrong with them mentally. (More coronavirus stories.)

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