By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – People who have contracted Covid-19 are at higher risk of multiple brain injuries a year later than people who have not been infected with the coronavirus, a finding that could affect millions of Americans, U.S. researchers reported on Thursday.

The year-long study, published in Nature Medicine, assessed brain health across 44 different diseases using medical records without patient identification from millions of US veterans.

Brain and other neurological disorders occurred 7% more among those infected with the virus compared to a group of veterans who had never been infected. That translates to 6.6 million Americans who have had dementia linked to Covid infections, the group said.

“The results highlight the devastating long-term effects of COVID-19,” senior author Dr. Ziad Al-Ali of Washington University School of Medicine said in a statement.

Al-Ali and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System studied medical records from 154,000 US veterans diagnosed with Covid-19 between March 1, 2020 and January 15, 2021.

Video: Increased risk of certain brain disorders after Covid-19 infection, study finds

That compares with records of 5.6 million patients who did not have the coronavirus during the same period and another 5.8 million before the coronavirus came to the United States.

Al-Ali said that previous studies looked at a narrow group of disabled people and mostly focused on hospitalized patients, while their study included both in-hospital and non-hospital patients.

Commonly called brain fog, memory impairments were the most common symptoms. Compared to the control group, people infected with Covid-19 were 77% more likely to develop memory problems.

People infected with the virus were 50% more likely to have an HIV stroke, which is caused by a blood clot, compared to a group that was never infected.

People with Covid were 80% more likely to have seizures, 43% more likely to have mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, 35% more likely to have headaches and 42% more likely to have movement disorders, such as tremors, compared to control groups.

Governments and health systems need to plan for a post-Covid world, say researchers.

“Given the enormous scale of the epidemic, meeting these challenges requires urgent and coordinated – but not yet – global, national and regional response strategies,” Al-Ali said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuisen; Editing by Bill Burkert)

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