Roundup: Long COVID’s Neurological Impact After 2 Years; Regular Exercise Lowers Risk of Severe Illness from Infection; and More

COVID Linked to Higher Risks of Brain Disorders Up to 2 Years After Infection

COVID-19 is associated with increased risks of neurological and psychiatric conditions in the weeks and months after initial infection, according to a new observational study that is one of the largest yet to examine the impact of “long COVID.”

The researchers at Oxford University in the U.K.  reviewed more than a million patient cases and found that, two years after infection, patients who had recovered from COVID-19 were at a higher risk of psychosis, dementia, “epilepsy or seizures” and “brain fog” – compared with patients who recovered from other respiratory diseases. Brain fog from COVID usually encompasses short-term memory loss, confusion and difficulty concentrating to varying degrees.

How long these risks remain, whether they affect children and adults similarly, and whether (COVID-19) variants differ in their risk profiles remains unclear, the researchers state. The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, found that even the Omicron COVID variant, which is currently dominant and causes mostly milder initial symptoms, also posed similar long-term risks.

‘The findings shed new light on the longer-term mental and brain health consequences for people following COVID-19 infection,” explains study lead author Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at Oxford University. “The results have implications for patients and health services and highlight the need for more research to understand why this happens after COVID-19, and what can be done to prevent these disorders from occurring, or treat them when they do.”

Researchers found that the increased risk of anxiety and depression subsides within two months following initial COVID-19 and, over a two-year period, are no more likely to occur than after other respiratory infections. In contrast, diagnoses of many neurological disorders — such as dementia and seizures), and psychotic disorders and ‘brain fog’ — continue to be made more often after COVID-19 throughout the two years.

Exercising Regularly Can Lower Your Risk of Infection or Illness from COVID-19, New Study Says

Taking part in regular physical activity or exercise routines is associated with a lower risk of severe illness or hospitalization from COVID-19, according to a new study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine

The findings were derived from 16 previous studies involving more than 1.8 million adults (53 percent women, with a mean age of 53 years). Individuals who included regular physical activity in their weekly routine had an 11 percent lower risk for infection with COVID-19.

Moreover, regular exercise provided much more robust protection against sickness. The physically active adults in the studies also had a 36 percent lower risk of being hospitalized from COVID, and a 44 percent lower risk of developing severe illness from COVID. Overall, the physically active had a 43 percent lower risk of dying from COVID-19, compared to the sedentary peers.

Researchers based their findings on data from the Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET), which calculates the number of calories burned per minute of activity. The most effective amount of exercise, the researchers said, comes to 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. 

That coincides with U.S. minimal exercise guidelines of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both.

Brisk walking and biking slower than 10 miles-per-hour are examples of moderate-intensity activities. Examples of vigorous-intensity exercises include running, swimming laps, hiking uphill, or cycling 10-miles-per-hour or faster.

Researchers concede that the studies reviewed were mostly observational and involved “subjective tools to assess physical activity.”  More “epidemiological studies with detailed quantification of physical activity” will help establish more precise information regarding the link between exercise and COVID severity, they stated.

Nonetheless, “these findings may help guide physicians and healthcare policymakers in making recommendations and developing guidelines with respect to the degree of physical activity that can help reduce the risk of infectivity, hospitalization, severity and mortality of COVID-19,” the study concludes.

New Research Finding May Improve Prognosis After Traumatic Brain Injuries

Researchers have found that certain “biomarkers” – or molecules – in the blood on the day of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can accurately predict a patient’s risk of death or severe disability six months later. According to the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in Lancet Neurology, properly measuring these biomarkers may produce more accurate assessments after TBIs.

Researchers followed nearly 1,700 patients who are part of a separate study aimed at better understanding and diagnosing TBIs with the goal of improving treatment. In the NIH-funded study, researchers examined levels of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and ubiquitin carboxy-terminal hydrolase L1 (UCH-L1)— proteins found in glial cells and neurons, respectively — in these patients.

The research team measured the biomarkers in blood samples taken from patients diagnosed with TBI on the day of their injury. They then evaluated their recovery six months later.

“The study showed that GFAP and UCH-L1 levels on the day of injury were strong predictors of death and unfavorable outcomes, such as vegetative state or severe disability requiring daily assistance to function,” NIH states in a news release.

Study participants were recruited from 18 trauma centers across the U.S.. More than half had suffered TBI from a road traffic accident. The study also found that the “predictive value” of the biomarkers was strongest for those patients with “moderate to severe TBI.”

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