Covid-19 could be “a perfect storm for Parkinson’s disease”, researchers report

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Author: Saskia MairPublished: 29 October 2020

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A new commentary, based on three patient case studies, outlines a potential link between Covid-19 and Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms – and suggests that the virus could be associated with a higher risk of developing the neurological condition

A new article, ‘Is COVID-19 a Perfect Storm for Parkinson’s Disease?’, has suggested that contracting the Covid-19 virus could increase the long-term risk of developing the progressive neurological condition.

The commentary, published in the Trends in Neurosciences journal, examines three case studies of people who developed symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease after being infected with Covid-19 – despite having no earlier experience of symptoms or family history of the condition.

The three patients referenced in the case studies were 35, 45, and 58 years old, and developed Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms in under five weeks of catching the virus and experiencing severe respiratory symptoms. Brain imaging showed that each of the patients had reduced function in a dopamine pathway in the brain – comparable to changes seen in Parkinson’s disease.

The co-authors, Dr J David Beckham, Dr Avindra Nath and Dr Patrik Brundin, discussed three potential ways that the Covid-19 virus could be linked to a higher risk of the condition: blood clots associated with the virus could damage the area of the brain producing the chemical messenger dopamine; inflammation caused by Covid-19 could cause brain inflammation and the death of cells; and the Covid-19 virus could potentially attack the nervous system.

Monitoring the effects of Covid-19

The scientists emphasised that the evidence from these rare case studies did not prove that Covid-19 causes Parkinson’s disease – but said that long-term studies were needed to find out more about a possible link.

“The large number of respiratory cases due to SARS-CoV-2 has allowed us to understand and analyse important neurologic complications of severe respiratory virus infections,” said Dr Beckham. “It is important that we continue our scientific investigations into this new virus so we understand all of the short and long-term complications of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Dr J David Beckham.

In their commentary, the researchers concluded that: “while acute parkinsonism in conjunction with Covid-19 appears to be rare, spread of SARS-CoV-2 widely in society might lead to a high proportion of patients being predisposed to developing PD later in life, especially because they will also be affected by normal aging processes […] A link between Covid-19 and PD would also imply that attaining ‘herd immunity’ by naturally infecting a large portion of the population could have disastrous long-term implications.”

Dr Brundin added: “As we continue to grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic today, we also must consider its implications for the future. Evidence is mounting that the side effects of Covid-19 infection, such as inflammation and damage to the vascular system, could lay the foundation for development of Parkinson’s disease.

“Covid-19 is clearly a major and ongoing public health threat, but the consequences of infection may end up being with us for years and decades to come.”

Dr Patrik Brundin.

Read the commentary ‘Is COVID-19 a Perfect Storm for Parkinson’s Disease?’.

Read more:

Problems and possibilities: the impact of coronavirus on people with Parkinson’s

Coronavirus and Parkinson’s: experts answer the big questions

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