While a fever and cough have seemed to be the early warning signs of COVID-19, new research shows almost half of hospitalized patients experience a host of neurological problems.
In fact, headaches, dizziness, strokes, weakness, decreased alertness or other neurological symptoms can appear before the more commonly known symptoms of infection with the new coronavirus (known as SARS-COV-2), the researchers said.
Those neurological symptoms can also include loss of smell and taste, seizures, muscle pain and difficulty concentrating.
"It's important for the general public and physicians to be aware of this, because a SARS-COV-2 infection may present with neurologic symptoms initially, before any fever, cough or respiratory problems occur," said researcher Dr. Igor Koralnik. He is chief of neuro-infectious diseases and global neurology, and a professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago.
For the study, Koralnik's team looked at all COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Northwestern Medicine, to see how often neurological complications appeared and how they responded to treatment.
"This understanding is key to direct appropriate clinical management and treatment," Koralnik said in a Northwestern news release.
The virus can affect the whole nervous system -- the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles. COVID-19 can also affect the lungs, kidneys, heart and brain, he said.
Last, but not least, the virus can infect the brain. Moreover, the reaction of the immune system to the infection can cause inflammation that can damage the brain and nerves, Koralnik added.
Because little is known about the long-term effects of the virus, the researchers intend to follow patients with neurological problems, to see how they do over time.
The report was published online June 7 in the Annals of Neurology.
For more on COVID-19, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.