Physicians link severe psychotic symptoms to COVID-19

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A small number of COVID-19 patients with no history of mental illness are developing severe psychotic symptoms weeks to months after contracting the virus, reports The New York Times.

Physicians worldwide have described similar cases in which psychotic symptoms appear in adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s who had mild COVID-19 cases. Most patients had no respiratory issues, but neurological symptoms like headaches or diminished sense of smell. These anecdotal reports are backed by several studies detailing psychiatric complications in COVID-19, including a small U.K. study of 153 patients, which found 10 developed "new-onset psychosis."

Hisam Goueli, MD, a physician at Amityville, N.Y.-based South Oaks Hospital, said he first noticed a trend this summer. The first patient he treated at the psychiatric hospital was a 42-year-old mother of four who started hearing a voice several months after contracting the virus that told her to kill herself and her children.

"It's a horrifying thing that here's this well-accomplished woman and she's like 'I love my kids, and I don't know why I feel this way that I want to decapitate them,'" Dr. Goueli told the Times. "We saw a second case, a third case and a fourth case, and we're like, 'There’s something happening.'"

Many questions still remain about the duration of patients' psychosis, how long recovery takes and whether they will be more susceptible to other psychiatric issues in the future, according to Dr. Goueli. In the mother's case, the drug risperidone proved effective and she was discharged after four weeks.

Health experts said such extreme cases of psychiatric dysfunction are likely rare, but offer yet another example of how COVID-19 can affect the brain. 

 

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