During at least the first few months following a coronavirus infection, even mild cases of Covid-19 are associated with subtle tissue damage and accelerated losses in brain regions tied to the sense of smell, as well as a small loss in the brain’s overall volume, a new British study finds. Having mild Covid is also associated with a cognitive function deficit.
These are the striking findings of the new study led by University of Oxford investigators, one that leading Covid researchers consider particularly important because it is the first study of the disease’s potential impact on the brain that is based on brain scans taken both before and after participants contracted the coronavirus.
The research, which was published Monday in Nature, also stands out because the lion’s share of its participants apparently had mild Covid — by far, the most common outcome of coronavirus infections. Most of the brain-related studies in this field have focused on those with moderate to severe Covid.
Gwenaëlle Douaud, an associate professor at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Oxford and the paper’s lead author, said that the excess loss of brain volume she and her colleagues observed in brain scans of hundreds of British individuals is equivalent to at least one extra year of normal aging.
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“It is brain damage, but it is possible that it is reversible,” she said. “But it is still relatively scary because it was in mildly infected people.”
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