We could be dealing with a "public mental health crisis" long after the coronavirus becomes a threat of the past, per Scientific American. Early studies indicate a third of COVID-19 patients develop a neurological symptom, such as stroke, psychosis, mania, a stutter, brain fog, and forgetfulness. "As horrible as the death rate is ... in the end there could be this legacy affecting up to one in 10 [Americans]," says Dr. William Banks of the University of Washington. Scientific American's piece opens with the story of a 40-year-old Texas teacher whose August COVID case robbed him of his voice—it returned a month later, but with a heavy stutter. Doctors have waved it off as stress-induced, which University of Michigan neuroscientist Soo-Eun Chang, who examines stutters, disputes (though she says stress can make a stutter worse).
Speech is "one of the more complex movement behaviors" we have, she explains. "There are literally 100 muscles involved that have to coordinate on a millisecond time scale ... And it depends on a well-functioning brain." The million-dollar question is what is causing it and other neurological symptoms, and there are a wave of theories. As the Scientist reports, though "traces of the virus" have been found in the brain in some autopsies of COVID patients, it's definitely not found in all, leaving researchers looking for other ways the virus could be having an impact. That effort will require that far more brain autopsies be conducted, per the Scientist, which says we only have data from a few hundred thus far due to a lack of qualified labs and the necessary equipment. Scientific American looks at some possible pathways to the brain, including inflammatory signals called cytokines or viral proteins crossing the blood-brain barrier; read the full piece here. (Read more coronavirus stories.)