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Health Highlights: Dec. 29, 2020

By HealthDay Reporter

Below are newsworthy items compiled by HealthDay staff:

Some COVID Patients Develop Severe Psychotic Symptoms

In rare cases, COVID-19 patients may develop psychotic symptoms although they never suffered from mental problems before, the New York Times reported Monday.

Although rare, these cases have been reported around the world.

A case in point: A 42-year-old physical therapist and mother of four, who had no psychiatric symptoms or any family history of mental illness, was crying and saying that she kept seeing her children, ages 2 to 10, being murdered and that she had made plans to kill them.

"It was like she was experiencing a movie, like 'Kill Bill,'" Dr. Hisam Goueli, a psychiatrist at South Oaks Hospital in N.Y., told the Times.

The woman had had mild symptoms of COVID-19, but Goueli wasn't sure if the coronavirus was connected to the woman's symptoms.

"Maybe this is COVID-related, maybe it's not," he said. "But then, we saw a second case, a third case and a fourth case, and we're like, 'There's something happening.'"

Similar cases are being reported across the country and around the world.

A British study of mental complications in 153 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 found that 10 people had "new-onset psychosis."

Another study identified 10 patients in Spain.

"My guess is any place that is seeing COVID is probably seeing this," Dr. Colin Smith at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., told the Times.

The cases are examples of another way that COVID-19 can affect mental health and brain function. Experts believe brain-related effects may be tied to the body's immune response to the virus and possibly to vascular problems or surges of inflammation caused by the disease. Most patients have been in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

"It's very rare for you to develop this type of psychosis in this age range," Goueli said. Also, some patients understand that something was wrong, while usually "people with psychosis don't have an insight that they've lost touch with reality."

Some patients needed weeks in the hospital before doctors could find a medication that worked. Dr. Robert Yolken, a neurovirology expert at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, told the Times that people might recover physically from COVID-19, but in some cases, the immune system might not shut down or might remain active because of "delayed clearance of a small amount of virus."

Cases of psychosis and mania have occurred with other viruses, including the 1918 flu and the coronaviruses SARS and MERS, the Times reported.

"We don't know what the natural course of this is," Goueli said. "Does this eventually go away? Do people get better? How long does that normally take? And are you then more prone to have other psychiatric issues as a result? There are just so many unanswered questions."

WHO Calls for New Measures to Identify COVID-19 Variants

The World Health Organization (WHO) says steps to expand the sequencing of the genome of new variants of the coronavirus are needed as the pandemic enters its second year, the Associated Press reported.

New variants found in Britain and South Africa appear to be more contagious and have triggered new travel restrictions. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at an online news conference Monday from Geneva that "there will be setbacks and new challenges in the year ahead -- for example new variants of COVID-19 and helping people who are tired of the pandemic continue to combat it," according to the AP.

WHO is working with scientists around the world to "better understand any and all changes to the virus" and their impact, he said.

Tedros added he wanted to "underscore the importance of increasing genomic sequencing capacity worldwide" and of sharing information with the U.N. health agency and other countries. He said that "only if countries are looking and testing effectively will you be able to pick up variants and adjust strategies to cope."

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