Australian scientists are not talking about a spike in coronavirus cases, but a much later increase in the number of neurodegenerative diseases.
While we are all preparing for the very likely possibility of a second wave of COVID-19, it turns out that, according to the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, there could a different ‘silent wave.’ In a study published in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease on 22nd September 2020, researchers shed some light on the potential long-term neurological consequences of the coronavirus and, in particular, the increased risks of developing Parkinson's disease.
An inflammation that is not trivial
Research is currently being carried out to understand how SARS-CoV-2 is able to invade the central nervous system. One of the study's authors, Professor Kevin Barnham, wrote in a statement that 'the fact that it’s getting in there is clear.’
Our best understanding is that the virus can cause insult to brain cells, with potential for neurodegeneration to follow on from there.
These insults could then cause some rather serious symptoms including a loss of smell (anosmia) and reduced oxygen levels in the blood. Leah Beauchamp, researcher at the Florey Institute, adds:
While on the surface this symptom can appear as little cause for concern, it actually tells us a lot about what’s happening on the inside and that is that there’s acute inflammation in the olfactory system responsible for smell.
However, previous research has suggested that chronic inflammation plays a major role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's—which causes tremors and cognitive impairment. Kevin Barnham explains:
Once the inflammation gets into the brain, it starts a cascade of events which can ultimately lead to Parkinson’s disease.
Monitor those at risk in order to detect it as quickly as possible
In addition, many patients who reportedly recovered from COVID-19 still suffered from fatigue, shortness of breath and anosmia a few weeks after the end of the infection. However, loss of smell has also been observed in 90% of people in the early stages of Parkinson’s and up to ten years before the onset of motor symptoms. As a result, COVID-19 could be a new way to detect and monitor people at risk of developing the disease earlier.
In order to monitor this 'third wave' and the potential increase in degenerative diseases, scientists from the Florey Institute propose creating a register of patients with the coronavirus experiencing long-term neurological disorders and having them undergo regular blood tests, so as to observe signs of possible neurodegeneration as early as possible.