According to a new study led by the University of Oxford, people who were infected with SARS-CoV-2 are more likely to develop seizures or epilepsy within the next six months than those who had an influenza infection. This increased risk was more noticeable in children than adults, as well as in people who had mild COVID-19 cases that didn’t require hospitalization.
“While the overall risk of developing seizures or epilepsy was low – less than one percent of all people with COVID-19, given the large number of people who have been infected with COVID-19, this could result in increases in the number of people with seizures and epilepsy,” said study senior author Arjune Sen, an expert in Epileptology at Oxford. “In addition, the increased risk of seizures and epilepsy in children gives us another reason to try to prevent COVID-19 infections in kids.”
The researchers investigated the health records of a group of 152,754 people who had COVID-19, as well as another group of similar size of people recently infected with influenza. None of the participants were previously diagnosed with recurrent seizures or epilepsy. Then, the scientists followed them over a period of six months after their infections to see how many of them developed seizures or epilepsy.
The analysis revealed that people who had COVID-19 were 55 percent more likely to develop these conditions than people who had influenza. The rate of new cases of seizures or epilepsy was 0.94 percent in the COVID group, compared to 0.60 percent in the influenza group.
“People should interpret these results cautiously since the overall risk is low,” Sen warned. “We do, however, recommend that health care professionals pay particular attention to individuals who may have more subtle features of seizures, such as focal aware seizures, where people are alert and aware of what is going on, especially in the three months following a less severe COVID-19 infection.”
According to the scientists, a significant limitation of the study – which should be addressed in further research – was the fact that the team was unable to identify which specific virus variants people were infected with, an aspect that could have influenced the results.
The study is published in the journal Neurology.
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