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Some COVID-19 patients develop severe psychotic symptoms

People without mental illness history became psychotic weeks after they contracted the novel coronavirus

In this Dec. 16, 2020 file photo The Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center’s patient drop-off/pick-up area is seen in Los Angeles. California hospitals are facing increasingly difficult decisions about which services to postpone amid a crushing load of coronavirus patients. Intensive-care beds are full in Southern California and the Central Valley, with statewide availability at only 1.1%.
The Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center’s patient drop-off and pickup area is seen in Los Angeles on Dec. 16, 2020. California hospitals are facing increasingly difficult decisions about which services to postpone amid a crushing load of coronavirus patients. Intensive-care beds are full in Southern California and the Central Valley, with statewide availability at only 1.1%.
Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press

A small number of COVID-19 patients who never had a history of mental illness have reported psychotic symptoms weeks after getting the novel coronavirus, according to The New York Times.

What’s going on?

Doctors across the country reported that COVID-19 patients have developed severe psychotic symptoms after being infected.

Here’s what doctors told The New York Times about the patients and their experiences:

“A 36-year-old nursing home employee in North Carolina who became so paranoid that she believed her three children would be kidnapped and, to save them, tried to pass them through a fast-food restaurant’s drive-through window.

“A 30-year-old construction worker in New York City who became so delusional that he imagined his cousin was going to murder him, and, to protect himself, he tried to strangle his cousin in bed.

“A 55-year-old woman in Britain had hallucinations of monkeys and a lion and became convinced a family member had been replaced by an impostor.”

Another woman experienced psychotic symptoms after getting COVID-19, imagining some dark thoughts about her children, according to News 18.

  • “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. Hisam Goueli, who works at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, New York, told News 18.

Is there any research?

  • A British study found that 10 out of 153 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had “new-onset psychosis.”
  • A separate study found 10 patients with similar symptoms in Spain.

Why does it happen?

Dr. Vilma Gabbay, a co-director of the Psychiatry Research Institute at Montefiore Einstein in the Bronx, New York, told News 18 that COVID-19 infects the brain because of the body’s immune response to the coronavirus.

  • “Some of the neurotoxins that are reactions to immune activation can go to the brain, through the blood-brain barrier, and can induce this damage.”