Why is the BHI Responding to COVID-19?
Neurologic and mental health symptoms of COVID-19 infection are common, diverse, and often severe. Emerging research indicates that over one-half of individuals who test positive for the virus may experience one or more neurologic symptoms. In many cases these symptoms are their first signs of the infection.
Some of the common neurologic symptoms include:
- Loss of smell or taste
- Muscle aches
- Mental fog/confusion
Scientists from around the world are working to understand what this means with regard to a patient’s short- and long-term health. What we know now is that these early neurological symptoms may indicate that the virus has either compromised the patient’s central nervous system or resulted in an overreaction of the patient’s immune system. If the symptoms are noted at the time of testing for the virus, the course of treatment and potential outcome might be improved.
In addition to neurologic symptoms, the profound short- and long-term mental health effects of COVID-19 are of significant concern. We know that people who already have mental health problems are at higher risk for infection, and COVID-19 may lead to a worsening of pre-existing symptoms. Early evidence also suggests that patients with COVID-19 are vulnerable to symptoms that present as mental health concerns like depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress, sometimes in patients without previous history of mental health.
It is becoming clear that a COVID-19+ diagnosis, as well as population experience in general, also leads to substantial widespread psychosocial distress. Given the critical bidirectional relationship between mental health and physical health, the BHI is confident that mental health factors have the potential to shape recovery and contribute to morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19.
How is the BHI Responding to COVID-19?
Initially, the BHI is asking and taking action on the following questions:
- When testing for the coronavirus, have we screened for all of the right symptoms?
- Through our collective efforts, are we collecting all of the necessary data?
- Are there any important questions that we are failing to ask?
As a crucial first step, the Brain Health Initiative has initiated a Call to Action including a statewide public health campaign and implementation of a short self-report symptom screener to fill this important clinical need and generate valuable data on the brain and mental health of patients with COVID-19.
Why Is A Public Health Campaign Important?
A COVID-19 public health campaign will help draw awareness to the neurologic and mental health symptoms that can occur prior to the onset of traditional COVID-19 respiratory infection symptoms. If these symptoms are noted at the time of screening and testing for the virus, the course of treatment and prognosis might be improved.
Neurologic Symptoms That May Accompany COVID-19 FAQ
The most common symptoms of the current coronavirus outbreak continue to be fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. These symptoms are typical of respiratory illnesses. However, other symptoms may also be present. In fact, you may have some of these other symptoms even if you don’t have a fever or any respiratory symptoms. The following are frequently asked questions about neurologic symptoms and COVID-19.
I have recently lost my sense of smell. What does that mean?
Loss of sense of smell that comes on suddenly has recently been recognized as one of the symptoms of COVID-19 in a substantial number of patients. In fact, the loss of smell may often occur even before other more common symptoms of the coronavirus appear. If you have noticed a loss of smell (or taste), even if you have no other symptoms, it is important that you self-isolate and check with your primary care physician or other health care provider to keep from potentially spreading the virus.
Are headaches and muscle aches normal symptoms of the coronavirus?
Mild headaches and body aches can accompany fever and can be seen as typical symptoms of the flu and the common cold, as well as the coronavirus. However, severe headaches, especially when unrelated to congestion, and muscle pain, especially in the shoulders and thighs and especially when accompanied by fatigue, may be related to neurologic symptoms of the coronavirus. If you have severe headaches or muscle pain, contact your primary care physician or other health care provider.
What are some other neurologic symptoms of COVID-19?
Dizziness, feeling disoriented, loss of coordination, seizures, and numbness or tingling in your hands and feet are common additional neurologic symptoms associated with the coronavirus. A recent report in a major medical journal indicated that about one-third of all diagnosed COVID-19 patients experienced at least one neurologic symptom. While these symptoms are more common in older patients, they can occur at any age. Because neurologic symptoms may be treated with a different protocol than the respiratory symptoms of COVID-19, it is important that you let your healthcare provider know if you have experienced any of these neurologic symptoms.
Mental Health Symptoms That May Accompany COVID-19 FAQs
Common symptoms of the current coronavirus outbreak include fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. While the virus is primarily a respiratory illness that affects the lungs, other symptoms may be present that increase the severity of the illness, prolong it, make it more difficult to treat. The coronavirus symptoms may interact with symptoms of some mental illnesses. Here are some frequently asked questions about mental health symptoms related to COVID-19.
Can COVID-19 affect symptoms of depression?
Mental health professionals predict that the coronavirus pandemic will affect depressive symptoms in several ways. First, the pandemic is increasing stress across the population in the form of uncertainty, loss of jobs, sleep disruption, financial loss, and family strain. Second, social distancing makes it more difficult for each of us to access our social support system, which is one of the major protective factors against depression. Finally, research indicates that suffering from depression makes recovery from physical illness more difficult. So, while the coronavirus increases risk for depression, depression increases the risk for extending the illness itself. It is more important than ever to be aware of potential signs of depression and take action to treat them in a timely manner. While there are a number of symptoms of depression, the most common are either feeling sad, irritable or in a depressed mood nearly every day for at least a two-week period, or losing interest in most of the things that used to give you joy and pleasure, again for at least two weeks. If you have one of these signs of depression, contact your health care professional. You don’t need to suffer.
Are COVID-19 patients at risk for post-traumatic stress?
Recent research examining patients who survived the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, reported widespread symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS). Some of reasons for the symptoms cited by the patients included separation from loved ones through social distancing, the real threat of death from the virus and the fear that they would infect someone else, and the constant tragic portrayal of the pandemic by the media. Some symptoms of post-traumatic stress include having nightmares about the virus and its effects, being constantly on guard or easily startled, or feeling numb or detached from people, activities, or your surroundings. If you are suffering from PTS, contact a health professional. Other steps you can take include staying in touch with friends and family via social media or telephone and reducing the amount of time you spend viewing coverage of the pandemic on TV.
How is alcohol abuse related to COVID-19?
Alcohol abuse reduces a person’s ability to fight off infection. It therefore increases your susceptibility to contracting the virus. However, the most serious consequence of heavy drinking is that it increases the risk of poor outcomes in people with respiratory diseases (such as coronavirus). Studies have shown that people with alcohol abuse disorders are more likely to need ventilators in the case of serious respiratory illness. If you feel you’re abusing alcohol or that your drinking is out of control, contact your health care professional.
How is drug use related to COVID-19?
Research shows that most types of substance use can increase the possibility of complications related to the coronavirus. Smoke-based substances, such as tobacco, vaping and marijuana, put added strain on the lungs, which are already under attack from the virus. People who use opioid drugs or methamphetamine may also suffer due to those drugs’ effects on the respiratory system. If you have tested positive for COVID- 19, make sure your health care provider is aware of any substances you have used recently.