Covid-19 can cause PARALYSIS in children in rare cases because the coronavirus can infect the spinal cord, study finds
- Researchers studied 38 cases of Covid-19 in children from eight countries
- Found rare cases of severe neurological symptoms affecting some patients
- Four patients died after catching another infection, such as TB or MRSA
- Two of the children were left with paralysis and had not recovered when the study was published
Coronavirus infection can cause paralysis in children in very rare cases, a new study reveals.
Researchers at the University of Manchester looked at neurological symptoms in 38 unusual cases of Covid-19 in under-18s.
SARS-CoV-2 has previously been found to cause neurological issues in adult patients, with delirium and strokes among the reported problems.
But there has been very little scientific research into the neurological implications of Covid-19 in children.
Coronavirus infection can cause forms of paralysis in some rare cases in children, a new study reveals (stock)
A total of 38 children who tested positive for the infection were assessed in the specialist study who had been admitted to hospital across eight countries.
The cases were found after a global call for unusual Covid cases in children was put out by the American Society of Pediatric Neuroradiology.
Thirteen came from France, eight from the UK, five from the US, four from Brazil, four from Argentina, two from India, one from Peru and one from Saudi Arabia.
How coronavirus infects the BRAIN
The coronavirus can reach the human brain after being inhaled through a person’s nose and getting stuck in their nasal mucus, a study has found.
It is the first known proof the coronavirus can infect the brain’s neurons via the mucosal pathway.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, it has become clear the coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, does not just cause respiratory distress but neurological issues as well.
For example, one in three report symptoms such as loss of smell or taste, headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea.
Scientists in Germany performed autopsies on 33 patients who died of Covid-19 and studied the mucus at the back of the nose — above the mouth where the throat joins the nasal cavity — as well as samples of brain tissue.
Genetic material of the coronavirus was present in largest quantities in the mucus of the nasal cavity, but SARS-CoV-2’s spike proteins — which protrude from the virus and latch onto human receptors to infect the cells — were also found in the brain.
All had MRI scans after developing symptoms of some form, ranging from a standard fever to problems moving their extremities and impaired cognitive function.
Eight of the children had no respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath or a cough, as is typically associated with Covid-19.
Four children in the study died after contracting another infection, such as TB and MRSA, after Covid-19 had made them more susceptible.
And two of the youngsters in the study were left paralysed after the virus reached their spinal cords and caused inflammation.
One of the children became quadriplegic and was reliant on a ventilator for breathing via a tracheostomy. The child is also being fed with a gastrostomy tube into their stomach.
The second child is also ventilator dependant with a tracheostomy as they are unable to breathe for themselves and had a tube into their stomach to feed them.
They are have dysautonomia, a condition which has left them unable to regulate their heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, bladder function and temperature, for example.
Twenty-six of the children made a full recovery and six were improving when the study was published in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.
Previous research has proved the virus can cross the blood-brain barrier and invade the organ, and can also reach the brain through the nose.
Professor Stavros Stivaros, joint senior author on the study, said: ‘It’s clear from the number of children we have seen with Covid-19, that neurological complications are rare.
‘But it is important to recognise that Covid-19 could be a possible diagnosis, even if these children are not displaying the virus’s classic respiratory symptoms.
‘It’s important to stress that most children with Covid related neurological illness will get better, but nevertheless it can rarely occur in previously healthy children,’ he adds.
‘A small number of these previously healthy children will die from either directly from Covid-19 or from of their increased sensitivity to other infections and some can get neurological complications from a delayed response to their Covid-19 infection.’
Why children are less affected by Covid-19
Children are less at risk of developing severe Covid symptoms and dying from the disease due to a host of differences between the bodies and immune systems of youngsters and adults, a study shows.
Australian researchers have identified several specific physiological differences which may explain why Covid-19 is rarely severe or fatal in children.
These include strong, undamaged cells in their blood vessels which prevent inflammation and clotting; elevated levels of vitamin D; an immune system that is both fast acting and well-oiled; and fewer ACE2 receptors, which the coronavirus uses to infect cells.
Melbourne-based researchers at Melbourne Children’s Research Institute reviewed all currently available research on the topic and analysed the results to unravel the reasons for age-related differences in Covid-19 severity and symptoms.
One key finding was that in many adults with severe Covid-19, so-called endothelial cells which line the heart and blood vessels are already damaged.
Patients with already damaged endothelial cells are known to be at higher risk of blood clots, strokes and heart attacks. SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19, also infects these cells and causes inflammation.
Adults also have a ‘higher density and increased affinity’ of ACE2, the receptor on the surface of cells which the virus hijacks and uses to infiltrate cells, the researchers write.
ACE2 becomes more prevalent as children grow up, which may explain why older children are more likely to develop symptoms than toddlers.
Another contributing factor to the relative immunity of children is the fact they often have been recently vaccinated for other diseases, including with MMR.
This can confer ‘off-target’ protective benefits which effectively help train the immune system and keep it firing on all cylinders.
Children are also more likely to be infected with other pathogens, catching colds and picking up germs in the playground. This can help build a strong natural immune system in a process dubbed ‘trained immunity’, the researchers say.