Chinese Researchers Warn That Omicron Variants And Sub-Lineages Like BA.2.2.1 Can Cause Cognitive Decline In Those Aged 50 And Above!
: In a startling new development, Chinese researchers from Tongji University School of Medicine in Shanghai have uncovered alarming evidence suggesting that exposure to the Omicron variant of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) could lead to cognitive issues despite claims that these variants or sub-lineages are ‘mild’. The study found that those aged 50 and above were more likely to develop cognitive issues upon exposure to the Omicron variant that compared to the younger individuals. This groundbreaking study has sent shockwaves through the scientific community, raising concerns about the potential long-term consequences of the virus.
Previous studies and COVID-19 News
reports have already revealed the persistent cognitive impairment experienced by approximately 25% of COVID-19 survivors, with symptoms ranging from impaired memory and attention to difficulties with concentration, executive function, and information processing. However, the latest research focuses specifically on the cognitive impact of the Omicron variant, which emerged as a variant of concern (VOC) in November 2021.
The Omicron variant is known for its high number of spike mutations, exceptional transmissibility, and ability to evade immunity in highly vaccinated populations. Until now, it remained uncertain whether this variant could cause cognitive impairment similar to other previous VOCs. This study sought to shed light on this pressing issue.
Conducted as a cross-sectional cohort study, the study team enrolled 215 patients infected with the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron BA.2.2.1 variant, including 142 asymptomatic individuals and 73 mild cases without pneumonia.
The study spanned from April to August 2022 and took place at Shanghai Fourth People's Hospital. To ensure accuracy, the study team excluded individuals with pre-existing neurological or psychiatric conditions and other confounding factors.
The patients' cognitive function was assessed using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA). These tests, administered by trained professionals, measured various aspects of cognitive abilities such as memory, attention, computation, language function, and executive function.
Astonishingly, the results showed that patients infected with the Omicron variant had comparable scores to the control group, suggesting no significant cognitive impairment.
However, a closer analysis revealed a startling revelation: patients over the age of 50 infected with the Omicron variant demonstrated significantly lower cognitive scores compared to their younger counterparts and the control group. This finding raises concerns about the susceptibility of older individuals to cognitive decline when exposed to this variant.
Notably, female patients over 50 exhibited even more pronounced cognitive impairment, while male patients in the same age group did not show significant differences from the control group
Further examination of the specific cognitive domains affected by the Omicron variant revealed lower scores in attention, calculation, digit
span, serial administration, verbal fluency, and abstraction.
These study findings indicate that the virus may target crucial cognitive functions, potentially leading to long-term cognitive dysfunction.
While the study acknowledges its limitations due to the small sample size, it remains the first of its kind to highlight the cognitive impairment associated with the Omicron BA.2.2.1 variant.
The study team stress the urgency of recognizing and addressing the cognitive decline induced by COVID-19 infection, particularly in an aging society. Although most patients in the study did not exhibit severe symptoms or pneumonia, it is believed that peripheral inflammation caused by the virus could disrupt the endothelial function, activate microglia, deplete neurotransmitters, compromise microvasculature, and ultimately result in leukoencephalopathy and cortical atrophy. These neurological changes could lead to network dysfunction and cognitive alterations.
Importantly, the study also acknowledges that the MMSE and MoCA tests employed were screening tools, and more comprehensive investigations are necessary to uncover the full extent of cognitive changes caused by the Omicron variant. Future studies utilizing advanced techniques such as functional MRI and PET-CT will delve deeper into the potential alterations in brain structure and function in patients infected with the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant.
Moreover, it is crucial to determine whether the impaired cognitive function observed in these patients is a specific consequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus or simply an expression of general sickness behavior. Although the study participants were mostly asymptomatic or experienced mild symptoms, some exhibited signs of sickness behavior. However, intriguingly, only patients over the age of 50 displayed cognitive dysfunction, even though sickness behavior was observed in both age groups. This suggests that the cognitive decline observed may be directly linked to the Omicron variant rather than general illness-related effects.
To gain a more comprehensive understanding of the specific effects of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant on cognitive performance and neural circuitry, the researchers propose conducting long-term monitoring studies. By employing advanced techniques such as functional MRI and PET-CT scans, these investigations aim to unravel the intricate changes in brain structure and function that occur in Omicron-infected individuals.
In conclusion, this groundbreaking study conducted by Chinese researchers has uncovered a startling link between the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 and cognitive decline. The findings emphasize the need for heightened awareness and proactive measures to address the potential long-term cognitive impairment caused by this variant. As the world grapples with the ongoing pandemic, it is essential to prioritize the protection and care of vulnerable populations, especially older individuals, who may be more susceptible to the cognitive effects of the Omicron variant.
The study findings were published as a letter in the peer reviewed journal: Translational Neurodegeneration.
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