The case shares the details of what happened to a 62-year-old man who was admitted to a hospital in New York, Mount Sinai Queens Hospital Center, after having difficulty walking and showing signs of rapidly progressive dementia.
“Clinically, he experienced worsening neurological function after having been COVID-19 positive on admission,” the paper states.
Eventually, he was diagnosed with prion disease, and his case has prompted questions about whether Covid could have triggered the illness.
The authors of the new report say the circumstances provide evidence of a “potential correlation” between Covid and neurodegenerative conditions.
There are several types of prion disease, per Johns Hopkins Medicine, and they’re extremely rare: Only about 300 cases of the illnesses are reported in the US annually. The most common type in humans is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Prion diseases occur after a normal prion protein, which is found on the surface of cells, becomes abnormal. It eventually forms a clump in the brain and causes brain damage, and this can lead to personality changes, memory impairment, and movement difficulties. Prion diseases are fatal.
Certain people do have a higher chance of having prion disease, including people who have a family history of the condition, or people who have been infected by contaminated medical equipment. Thoroughly cleaning medical equipment can prevent the disease.
Aside from dementia, symptoms include changes in gait and difficulty walking, hallucinations, confusion, muscle stiffness, fatigue, and difficulty speaking. There’s no cure for prion disease, though certain medicines can be taken to slow the progression of the illness. Treatment is focused on keeping patients comfortable as their disease progresses.
People who develop prion disease usually require help from a caretaker after the fact; they may be able to live on their own for a time, but they’ll eventually need to move to a care facility.
About three weeks after the patient featured in the new report was hospitalised, he grew “progressively mute” and started having difficulty swallowing. He soon needed a feeding tube, and he also became “spastic with severe pain”. The patient died three weeks later.
The authors of the new report said this isn’t the first demonstrated case of prion disease following Covid-19 infection: It’s happened at least three other times since the virus emerged.
Not much is known about how the two may be connected, the authors wrote. “Evidence in the literature about an association between COVID-19 and neurodegeneration is unclear,” the study said. “Nonetheless, it is evident that multiple neurodegenerative conditions might be a result of pathogenic illnesses, most commonly prion disorders.”
Complications from Covid-19 infection—both those we already know about, such as long Covid, and those that have yet to be established—are one more reason to stay up to date on your Covid vaccines, experts say.
Updated Covid vaccines are now available nationwide, and they can help people six months and older stay safe this cold and flu vaccines. The shots can protect everyone eligible from hospitalisation and other bad outcomes, according to health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).