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Study Says People With Mild COVID-19 Symptoms Could Suffer From Long-Term Neurological Damage

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Dr. Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist with the Yale School of Medicine, has been researching the potential long-term effects of getting COVID-19.

In a recent study, Iwasaki has discovered that even people with mild symptoms can sometimes suffer long-term neurological damage.

NBC Connecticut's Dan Corcoran spoke with her about the issue.

Dan: "So you've been doing a lot of research on COVID-19, and the long-term effects of getting this virus. And one of the new things that you're discovering is that even people with mild COVID-19 symptoms can sometimes suffer long-term neurological damage. Can you talk a little bit about that?"

Dr. Iwasaki: "Yes, our most recent research was done mostly in mouse model of COVID-19, where we intentionally gave mice a mild respiratory infection with SARS-CoV-2, and then we measured what happens in the brain seven days and seven weeks after the infection. And what we found is that even with a very mild infection, which we really cannot measure any disease phenotype in these mice, we still saw some significant damage in the cells of the brain. This means that even a mild respiratory infection could lead to neurological symptoms; that's based on the damage that we see."

Dan: "There's a general feeling out there that if you're fully vaccinated and boosted, you won't get too sick from COVID. But does this research kind of shift that thinking a bit?"

Dr. Iwasaki: "I think the vaccines and prior infections do prevent some of these long-term consequences from occurring after infection, but it's no guarantee. So, it's very important that people still protect themselves against infection with this virus, even if you're vaccinated or boosted."

Dan: "What does this research tell you about the broader scope of COVID-19? It's still such a new virus. There's a lot we probably don't know about this yet, right?"

Dr. Iwasaki: "That's right, we are still learning a lot about the virus itself, the infection and the disease outcome from this infection. And there are lots of surprising turns that we're finding as we do more and more investigation into the infectious disease of this particular virus."

Dan: "What in the long term do you hope to find out?"

Dr. Iwasaki: "Our goal is, try to find out what's causing long COVID. Whether it be affecting, you know, the nervous system or the GI tract or the respiratory tract, the long COVID can affect so many multiple organ systems. And currently, we don't understand how long COVID happens. And if we don't understand that, we won't know how to treat these diseases better. So ultimately, we want to understand the underlying mechanism of disease, so we can come up with a therapy to treat these patients."

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