Doctor identifies case of coronavirus-related psychosis in patient

Research on how the virus affects the brain is still in its early days, but some experts think the cause could be the body's immune system or inflammation response.
LOS ANGELES -- The physical impacts of COVID-19 are playing out in overcrowded hospitals across the United States, but there are growing concerns over the mental impacts of the virus.

Research is uncovering cases of severe psychosis in coronavirus patients.

A patient in Los Angeles undergoing care for COVID-19 also developed a severe mental disorder.

"We have a patient presently who is being treated for COVID. And while being treated for COVID has psychosis and has emerged with beliefs that are totally bizarre abnormal," Keck Medicine of USC psychiatrist Dr. Steven Siegel said.

Siegel explained that people with psychosis experience thoughts and emotions so impaired, they lose touch with reality.

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"People believe the police are after them or their families are trying to hurt them," he said.

Individual reports of coronavirus-related psychosis have been documented in medical journals. Some experts suspect the cause could be the body's immune system response or inflammation caused by the disease.

Dr. Charles Casassa is a neurologist at Loma Linda University Health in California's Inland Empire region.

"We see symptoms that are related to brain inflammation, which can include confusion and rarely psychosis," he said.

Casassa is studying the effects of COVID-19 on patients with epilepsy and found the virus can cause more seizures.

"We have also found that there are some patients who have no history of seizures before that can subsequently get seizures once infected with COVID," he said.

Research on how COVID-19 affects the brain is still in its early days. How long the psychosis episodes may last and who is vulnerable are all questions that need to be answered. However, Siegel says people need to keep in mind that the condition is very rare.

"This is much more the extreme. An extreme rarity than it is something that I think people need to spend their energy worrying about," Siegel said. "It's not likely to happen."
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