University of Southampton researchers are co-leading a national study into the effects of Coronavirus on the brain and nervous system. In collaboration with investigators from Liverpool, Newcastle and UCL, the CoroNerve Studies Group aims to monitor the neurological features of COVID-19; Southampton’s participation builds on their existing strengths in understanding brain inflammation.
Doctors across the UK are being asked to report on cases where patients with COVID-19 show problems with their brain, nerves, or mental health. The Clinical Informatics Research Unit at UoS has developed the online tool with which physicians can record their observations, and the Southampton Clinical and Experimental Neurology Team (SCENT) will then use this data to investigate causality and identify risk factors for neurological involvement during COVID-19.
Ian Galea, Associate Professor in Experimental Neurology at SCENT, commented:
The experience of past pandemics, notably influenza H1N1 in 1918 and 2009, suggests that neurological complications may occur. Though the proportion may be small, given the large number of infections the collective burden may be large so there is an urgent need for prospective, nationwide, high-quality data collection to inform management and research.
This is a collaborative nationwide approach to gathering and analysing important data, working with physicians reporting surveillance data from the bedside through to our teams analysing patterns. Our aim is to identify risk factors for early identification and effective treatment strategies.
The Coronavirus has been implicated in a number of clinical symptoms aside from the primary features of COVID-19 itself, ranging from dizziness and headaches to stroke, brain inflammation and seizures. Interestingly, several cases also presented acute alterations in mental status (i.e. neuropsychiatric conditions such as psychosis). It was found that cerebrovascular events (i.e. brain haemorrhages or stroke) tended to occur in older patients, while younger COVID-19 sufferers were disproportionately affected in terms of mental disturbances. It should be noted elderly patients will have more underlying health conditions that flare up alongside COVID-19 and any mental disturbances are normally attributed to delirium, while younger people admitted to hospital will be under closer psychiatric review and so are more likely to be reported for psychosis. Nevertheless, these unusual observations warrant further investigation.
The results described have been identified from the first 153 patients notified by the CoroNerve national surveillance system, and will form the foundation of future COVID-19 research and health policy planning.