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US man dies of brain disease linked to COVID-19, sparks concerns: Study

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A 62-year-old man from the United States succumbed to deadly brain disease, a condition that has been linked to the COVID-19 virus, shedding light on the potential connection between the virus and neurodegenerative disorders, particularly prion diseases.

The man's neurological condition worsened following his admission with a COVID-19 diagnosis. (Shutterstock) (Representational Image)
The man’s neurological condition worsened following his admission with a COVID-19 diagnosis. (Shutterstock) (Representational Image)

The patient initially sought medical attention at Mount Sinai Queens Hospital Center in New York two months after exhibiting symptoms such as diffuse bradykinesia, drooling, dementia, and an inability to walk. He also experienced confabulation. Furthermore, he tested positive for COVID-19, although he remained asymptomatic with respect to the typical respiratory symptoms.

According to a journal published in the American Journal of Case Reports, the patient’s MRI brain results did not provide significant insights. Nevertheless, owing to strong clinical suspicion, the medical team ordered a CSF protein 14-3-3 test (COVID-19 test), which returned positive. Notably, his neurological condition worsened following his admission with a COVID-19 diagnosis. The case met the probable diagnostic criteria for Prion Disease (PrD), and the patient’s condition rapidly deteriorated, ultimately leading to his passing.

The study further highlighted the relationship between COVID-19 and neurodegenerative conditions. However, it emphasised that various neurodegenerative disorders could potentially result from pathogenic illnesses, with prion disorders being the most frequently cited example.

Prion diseases

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prion diseases, also known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), comprise a group of uncommon, slowly progressing neurodegenerative ailments affecting both humans and animals.

They are characterised by extended incubation periods, distinctive spongiform changes in brain tissue accompanied by the loss of neurons, and the absence of an inflammatory response.

TSEs are caused by prions, a term that refers to abnormal, pathogenic agents capable of transmission, which prompt the abnormal folding of specific normal cellular proteins known as prion proteins. These prion proteins are primarily found in the brain, and their precise functions remain not entirely elucidated.

The abnormal folding of these prion proteins results in brain damage and the distinctive clinical manifestations of these diseases. Prion diseases tend to progress rapidly and are invariably fatal.

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