TBI and COVID: A Dangerous Combination
Earlier this year the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) issued an open letter encouraging all individuals with brain injury to get a COVID vaccine. The letter cites evidence from the American Academy of Neurology that anyone with a neurologic disorder such a brain injury is particularly vulnerable to diseases like influenza and COVID:
“When one is infected with COVID-19, the virus attacks the “weakest link” it finds in the body, which is why individuals with longstanding chronic medical conditions are at the greatest risk for infection, complications and even death,” explained BIAA National Medical Director Brent E. Masel, M.D. “Studies have shown that traumatic brain injury triggers an inflammatory process in the brain that causes an individual to experience chronic issues. This process places those individuals at far greater risk of developing complications from COVID-19, which itself is well known to cause chronic neuroinflammatory issues.”
In prior posts we have discussed evidence, referred to by Dr. Masel, indicating that persistent brain injury symptoms may be caused by chronic neuroinflammation triggered by a brain injury. COVID, the evidence is increasingly suggesting, may accelerate this inflammatory process. A study recently published in Lancet Psychiatry found that as many as one in three people infected with COVID-19 have prolonged mental health or neurologic symptoms. Although mental health issues like anxiety were more common in patients with less severe disease, persistent neurologic symptoms were found in a substantial percentage of hospitalized patients with more severe disease.
A much discussed article published in JAMA Psychiatry discussed growing evidence that COVID can, in fact, directly affect the brain:
Some patients present with anosmia, cognitive and attention deficits (ie, brain fog), new-onset anxiety, depression, psychosis, seizures, and even suicidal behavior.1,2 These present before, during, and after respiratory symptoms and are unrelated to respiratory insufficiency,1 suggesting independent brain damage.
Some traumatic brain injury (TBI) victims may be concerned about potential adverse side effects of COVID vaccines. As explained by the BIAA,, TBI victims face even greater risks from COVID than people without preexisting brain injury. Any risks from vaccination are therefore far outweighed by the benefits.