Psychiatric warning: The virus can trigger psychosis

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Published July 20, 2021 at 12.41

Domestic. Doctors in psychiatry at the University Hospital see connections between psychosis and autoimmune conditions caused by coronavirus – and call for increased awareness.

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New research studies that SARS-CoV2, which causes covid disease, is a so-called neurotropic virus that can ignite the brain's autoimmunity and is manifested with psychiatric symptoms.

This is stated by Janet Cunningham, specialist in psychiatry at the University Hospital and researchers at Uppsala University.

– In these cases with new, debuted and serious psychiatric conditions, however, we have not seen signs of so-called cytokine storms in the body or “hyperactivation” of the immune system but clear signs of an activation of autoimmune processes. IgG antibodies to Spike protein have also been detected in the spinal fluid in several of these cases, says Janet Cunningham.

During the pandemic, the Academic Hospital treated a patient who, in connection with covid infection, showed life-threatening catatonia, which is an unusual form of psychosis. The case was recently published in the prestigious American Journal of Psychiatry.

The patient's memory was erased
It manifested itself in agitation, disorganized behavior and speech, involuntary muscle contractions that left body and arms stiff and difficulty controlling the body's basic functions. Autonomic instability included elevated temperature, recurrent episodes of fluctuating heart rate and arterial blood pressure, and short periods of decreased oxygen saturation.

– The condition erased several days from the patient's memory. However, the person was able to recover without severe brain damage due to prompt treatment, but it is important to be aware of such, more unusual neurological complications associated with an autoimmune condition caused by coronavirus. Prodromal infection symptoms, ie symptoms during the incubation period, a few weeks before the psychiatric symptoms began, may be relevant for the diagnosis, even if these have been mild and diminished, says Janet Cunningham.