Seizure 2020, Vol 79, Editor’s Choice: Seizures associated with coronavirus infections
In the countries which were initially ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, people are now emerging again from the lock-down imposed by their governments in an attempt to "flatten the curve" and protect health systems from becoming overwhelmed by patients badly affected by the virus. In these countries the attention is shifting from the emergency provision of extra hospital beds and ventilators to the development of new ways of working intended to reduce the infection risk to patients and clinicians – such as telephone or video-phone consultations. Routine surgical procedures are rescheduled, often after complex preparations including testing for COVID-19 infection and quarantine procedures. While life is still far from what was "normal" not so long ago, people are experimenting with a new kind of normality that may be sustainable for months, and possibly longer. Physicians in these countries may feel that I am a little behind with my editor’s choice from the current volume of Seizure, a narrative review about the epileptological consequences of corona virus infections by Ali Asadi-Pooya (1). However, while the panic which certainly coloured the initial responses to the pandemic may have settled in the countries described above, many other countries – mostly with far fewer resources than those that were hardest hit by the first wave of the pandemic are still experiencing dramatic increases in case numbers. Clinicians in these countries will still be looking around anxiously for anything they can learn about COVID-19.
One thing clinicians specializing in the treatment of seizure disorders will learn from the review by Dr. Asadi-Pooya is that previous experience with other corona viruses (such as SARS or MERS) suggests that their services may occasionally be called upon. These and other corona viruses do not only affect the respiratory organs through which they enter the body, they are also capable of causing encephalitides which may be associated with seizures (2,3).
Similarly COVID-19 can cause neurological symptoms. In one case series based on observations among 219 patients admitted to hospital with serious COVID-19 infections in China, 36.4% had neurologic manifestations. The commonest symptoms were dizziness (17%) and headache (13.1%). Impairment of taste (6%) and smell (5%) were also quite common. Depending on whether the cases were categorised as "severe" or "non severe", stroke, brain haemorrhage or TIAs were seen in 6% vs 1%, impaired consciousness in 15% vs 3%, and skeletal muscle injury in 19% vs 5% (4).
Although there are only sporadic reports of seizures or status epilepticus in the context of COVID-19 infections so far, it would be surprising if the many haematological, immunological and metabolic complications attributed to this virus or – or the treatments of these complications – were never associated with epileptological complications, especially with non-convulsive status epilepticus which may well be missed in settings where neurologists are not involved in providing front line care and access to EEG is limited because of resource limitation or because of infection control measures.
1) Asadi-Pooya A. Seizures associated with coronavirus infections. Seizure 2020; 79: 49-52
2) Li Y, Li H, Fan R, Wen B, Zhang J, Cao X, et al. Coronavirus Infections in the Central Nervous System and Respiratory Tract Show Distinct Features in Hospitalized Children. Intervirology 2016; 59: 163-169.
3) Saad M, Omrani AS, Baig K, Bahloul A, Elzein F, Matin MA, et al. Clinical aspects and outcomes of 70 patients with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus infection: a single-center experience in Saudi Arabia. Int J Infect Dis 2014; 29: 301-306.
4) Mao L, Jin H, Wang M, et al. Neurologic Manifestations of Hospitalized Patients With Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Wuhan, China. JAMA Neurol. Published online April 10, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2020.1127