COVID May Be Tied To Rise In Children's Brain Infections

There’s a surge in children’s bacterial brain infections, and COVID-19 could be behind it.

When the pandemic started, the doctors at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital of Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, saw a 236% rise in bacterial brain infections.

The type of infection recorded was considered rare, and cases varied between mild and severe. The former only needed antibiotics to clear, while the latter required surgery and treatment in the intensive care unit.

“There’s a lot of different reasons why that could be related to COVID, but it also could be unrelated to COVID. It could just be a brief trend,” said senior author Dr. Rosemary Olivero, a pediatric infectious diseases expert at the hospital.

To learn whether other children’s hospitals were seeing the same worrisome surge in brain abscesses and similar kinds of pus-filled buildups in the skull, Olivero’s team surveyed 109 hospitals.

Published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the study found around 43% reported an increase in brain infections during the pandemic’s first two years. A follow-up with 64 hospitals that expressed interest in providing more information also saw eight responding with upticks in brain infections.

According to the researchers, this was possibly due to bacteria in the nose, mouth and throat traveling to the brain since the coronavirus is known to weaken a person’s immune system.

"There's a really complicated interplay of the immune system and the bacteria that actually already live in those respiratory spaces. So viral infection often comes first, and then the bacterial infection can result from that initial viral infection. Most of these more invasive brain infections that we see actually originate from the sinuses,” Olivero added.

However, Olivero said that it’s also possible that the rise in brain infections was because of children not receiving normal care or scheduled vaccinations during the pandemic.

Olivero added that she and the CDC were delving deep to see whether they could come up with a definitive explanation for the surge.

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