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THE CHALLENGE

Viruses Can Harm
The Central Nervous
System.

Evidence suggests that some viruses can cause devastating neurological harm and even invade the central nervous system (CNS). Examples include influenza, HIV, and Japanese Encephalitis. Previous research has highlighted a link between viral infections and dementias, as well as essentially untreatable viral encephalitides. There have been calls to action from around the world to further investigate this phenomenon, but this requires multi-disciplinary, and likely multi-country collaboration, as understanding how viruses impact the CNS is at the intersection of different disciplines; most notably virology/immunology and neuroscience/neurology. As such, this area of research has fallen between the cracks. 

In the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a number of small studies around the world focused on the ability of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses to affect other body systems, including the CNS; either as a direct result of neuroinvasion or via secondary effects related to immune or inflammatory processes. There are also indications of a possible connection to neurodegenerative diseases stemming from opportunistic viral entry into the CNS or, alternatively, disease onset due to neuroinflammation caused by the virus. These sequelae may manifest over a longer time horizon than has been the current focus of COVID-19 research investment.

There is an urgent need for greater coordination and multidisciplinary collaboration, and increased attention and investment, in order to connect the various efforts and achieve the scale of evidence required to understand how SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses interact with the brain—whether directly or indirectly—and the damage they can do.

“There is an urgent need to understand the short and long-term implications of Covid-19 infection on the nervous system. Are there steps we should be taking immediately to mitigate or minimize the long-term consequences? – Dr. Doug Muñoz