Although COVID-19 does not directly infect the brain it can cause significant neurological damage, researchers have said.

A team from Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons has just published results from the largest and most detailed brain and COVID-19 study ever carried out.

Lead researcher Dr James Goldman, professor of pathology and cell biology, said: “There’s been considerable debate about whether this virus infects the brain, but we were unable to find any signs of virus inside brain cells of more than 40 COVID-19 patients.

“At the same time, we observed many pathological changes in these brains, which could explain why severely ill patients experience confusion and delirium and other serious neurological effects — and why those with mild cases may experience ‘brain fog’ for weeks and months.”

The trial involved analysing the brains of 41 people who had been admitted to hospital with COVID-19.

The age range was between 38 and 97 and nearly half of them ended up with some sort of lung damage.

Dr Goldman said: “We’ve looked at more brains than other studies, and we’ve used more techniques to search for the virus. The bottom line is that we find no evidence of viral RNA or protein in brain cells.”

Fellow lead researcher Dr Peter Canoll, professor of pathology and cell biology, added: “Though there are some papers that claim to have found virus in neurons or glia, we think that those result from contamination, and any virus in the brain is contained within the brain’s blood vessels.

“If there’s any virus present in the brain tissue, it has to be in very small amounts and does not correlate with the distribution or abundance of neuropathological findings.”

The findings have been published in the journal Brain.

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