Banner Sun Health Looks At What Happens When COVID-19 Invades The Brain

Published: Monday, February 22, 2021 - 8:47am
Updated: Monday, February 22, 2021 - 12:43pm

Banner Sun Health in Sun City is home to a brain and body donation program. Over the summer, the program received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to map the invasion of COVID-19 in the brain. Now, the preliminary results have been shared online.

Dr. Tom Beach is the director of the program.

"And, of course, it was useful for us to have this autopsy program during the pandemic, because we're able to take advantage of the deaths that occur to see how COVID-19 is affecting the brain," he said.

Despite a surge in cases and deaths over the summer, Beach says they didn’t see spike in brain and body donations. Then came this latest surge.

"But since January, we've had 22 deaths in the program, which is about three times the number we expected over that time," he said. "And of that number of deaths, more than half were positive for COVID-19."

And what they found was striking.

"There were four cases out of 20, that we detect the COVID-19 in the brain, two of those had a severe result, one without massive stroke in the brain, and the other one with pretty massive infection that causes the brain to swell and kill the patient," said Beach.

It's still early days and more studies need to be done.

“So, we can't really say that of all people who have ever tested positive for COVID, that 20% will have viruses in the brain, it's probably something less," he said. "But nevertheless, with all the millions of people who have tested positive to even have 10% or 5% with virus in their brain, we have to wonder what's going to be the long-term effect for those people.”

A preliminary, non-peer reviewed report was released last week in the Preprint MedRxiv.

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