Coronavirus Roundup: COVID-19’s Neurological Symptoms; Obesity as Risk Factor; and Can Virus Travel 13 Feet in Air?

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April 17, 2020


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Headaches and More Serious Neurological Issues Seen in Some COVID-19 Cases, Study Finds

New research, which was published in the medical journal JAMA Neurology, indicates that neurological issues, ranging from headaches to altered consciousness and strokes, are being seen in serious cases of COVID-19.

A study out of China looked at 214 cases of severe coronavirus illness treated in Wuhan city during the early phase of the pandemic. Doctors reported that 36.4 percent of patients displayed neurological symptoms — sometimes these symptoms appeared in the relative absence of “typical” symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

On the mild end of the range of symptoms, people commonly experienced the loss of taste and smell, while headaches were reported in 13 percent of the patients. Dizziness was observed in about 17 percent of cases, and muscle inflammation and nerve pain occurred in about 19 percent. Overall, the more severe the COVID-19 symptoms, the more frequent and intense the neurological complications, including seizures and stroke.

Sometimes these symptoms were present alongside respiratory issues, cough or fever. But in other cases, patients had the neurological symptoms without any signs of respiratory distress.

Indications that COVID-19 could cause neurological issues is not new. Last month, several reports surfaced that one sign of infection was a loss of sense of smell or taste, indicating that the coronavirus affects nerve pathways.

In the new study, the 214 patients were treated at three hospitals in Wuhan, the original epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients all had severe enough symptoms to require hospitalization, and were treated between January 16 and February 19. The patients averaged about 53 years of age.

Obesity is No. 2 Risk Factor for Coronavirus Hospitalization, Preliminary Research Says

People who are obese may be at a higher risk level for serious illness from COVID-19 than those with heart and lung disease.

In the first large study of U.S. hospital admissions for the coronavirus patients, researchers in New York City found that having a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30, which is considered obese, was the biggest factor for admission — after age (65 or older).

The study’s results are considered preliminary because the research has yet to undergo peer review. But the findings confirm what earlier research has indicated — that obesity and its chronic health issues put people at a higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19.

Researchers at the NYU Grossman School, along with doctors at NYU Langone Health, examined electronic patient records of 4,103 COVID-19 patients in the New York City healthcare system between March 1 and April 2. Their findings: about half of the 4,103 patients were admitted to the hospital, mostly determined by age and BMI. Specifically, 87 percent of patients who were over 65 were admitted, and 70 percent of patients who were obese and over age 35 were admitted. People under age 35 were more likely to be admitted if they were male and obese.

A separate report from earlier this month from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that 48 percent of all patients admitted to hospitals in 99 counties nationwide were obese. Nearly 60 percent of 18- to 49-year-olds who were hospitalized were obese, the CDC said.

Coronavirus Can Travel 13 Feet in Air, Contiminate Soles of Shoes, China Study Indicates

At least six feet — that’s the standard recommended by public health officials for social distancing between people to slow the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19.

A small study from China, however, indicates that the coronavirus can be found in the air up to 13 feet from patients in a hospital, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Researchers also found that the coronavirus could linger on hospital workers’ shoes and may be spread by walking in contaminated shoes.

“The aerosol distribution characteristics … indicate that the transmission distance of [COVID-19] might be 4 m (more than 13 feet),” the report says. Testing for the study took place in areas with a total of 37 coronavirus patients.

“Furthermore, half of the samples from the soles of the ICU medical staff shoes tested positive,” the researchers noted, referring to samples taken at Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan, China. “Therefore, the soles of medical staff shoes might function as carriers.”

High levels of COVID-19 were also found on frequently touched surfaces such as trash cans, bed rails and computer mice.

The study’s findings has not prompted public health officials to change social distancing guidelines at this time.

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