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Does COVID-19 affect the brain?

“The neurological stuff can be quite attention-getting for people,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, Baptist Memorial Hospital Infectious Disease Medical Doctor.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — COVID-19 has been known to cause many different side effects. Some of those include the neurological system.

Local 24 News Reporter Brittani Moncrease spoke with an infectious disease doctor about that we know so far when it comes to COVID and the brain. 

Ever wonder why COVID-19 impacts your taste and smell? Well, it is a neurological symptom of the virus - two of many.

“The neurological stuff can be quite attention-getting for people,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, Baptist Memorial Hospital Infectious Disease Medical Doctor. 

Dr. Threlkeld said studies are just rolling out looking at COVID and its effects on the brain. 

“There’s a good study that came out that shows that at six months, up to a third of people will have significant neurology or psychological effects. That’s an extraordinary number. People talk about one in a million side effects of vaccine. This is a third of the people hospitalized with COVID,” said Dr. Threlkeld.

Neuro effects range anywhere from loss of taste and smell to anxiety, brain fog, and - in more extreme cases - hallucinations and strokes.  

“There’s no question. The severity of the illness also does seem to tie into people having the worst side effects and the longest lasting ones,” said Dr. Threlkeld. 

Here's what is interesting. 

Dr. Threlkeld said the virus isn't directly causing these symptoms. 

“Probably much of what we see in the lungs too, some of the damage that we’re seeing in people’s brains really have to do with the immune system getting angry and turning on us. Some of those brain cells can be damaged,” said Dr. Threlkeld. 

This can happen with other viruses too, but COVID seems to be more traumatic. 

There may be an upside. It's the vaccine. 

“A significant percentage of people who got the vaccine seem to have improvement in that. It is very unclear why that is the case yet,” said Dr. Threlkeld. “There certainly never seems to be any problems with those things getting worse from the vaccine.” 

Dr. Threlkeld said that improvement is just one more reason people should get vaccinated.