Clin Neurol Neurosurg. 2020 Aug 25;197:106173. doi: 10.1016/j.clineuro.2020.106173. Online ahead of print.
People with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection, COVID-19, can have neurological problems including headache, anosmia, dysgeusia, altered mental status (AMS), ischemic stroke with or without large vessel occlusion, and Guillen-Barre Syndrome. Louisiana was one of the states hit hardest by the pandemic with just over 57,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 by the end of June 2020. We reviewed the electronic medical records (EMR) of patients hospitalized during the peak of the pandemic, March 1st through March 31st, to document the type and frequency of neurological problems seen in patients with COVID-19 at presentation to the emergency room. Secondary aims were to determine: 1) the frequency of neurological complaints during the hospital stay; 2) whether the presence of any neurological complaint at presentation or any of the individual types of neurological complaints at admission predicted three separate outcomes: death, length of hospital stay, or the need for intubation; and 3) if the presence of any neurological complaint or any of the individual types of neurological complaints developed during hospital stay predicted the previous three outcomes. A large proportion of our sample (80 %) was African American and had hypertension (79 %). Out of 250 patients, 56 (22 %) patients died, and 72 (29 %) patients required intubation. Thirty-four (14 %) had a neurological chief complaint at presentation; the most common neurological chief complaints in the entire sample were altered mental status (AMS) (8 %), headache (2 %), and syncope (2 %). We used a competing risk model to determine whether neurological symptoms at presentation or during hospital stay were predictors of prolonged hospital stay and death. To establish whether neurological symptoms were associated with higher odds of intubation, we used logistic regression. Age was the only significant demographic predictor of death and hospital stay. The HR (95 %CI) for remaining in the hospital for a ten-year increase in age was 1.2, (1.1, 1.3, p < 0.0001), and for death was 1.3, (1.1, 1.5, p < 0.01). There were no demographic characteristics, including age or comorbidities predictive of intubation. Adjusting for age, patients who at presentation had neurological issues as their chief complaint were at significantly increased risk for remaining in the hospital, HR = 1.7, (1.1,2.5, p = 0.0001), and dying, HR = 2.1(1.1,3.8, p = 0.02), compared to patients without any neurological complaint. Of the individual admission complaints, AMS was associated with a significantly prolonged hospital stay, HR = 1.8, (1.0-3.3, p = 0.05). Patients that required dialysis or intubation or had AMS during hospitalization had more extended hospital stays. After adjusting for age, dialysis, and intubation, patients with AMS during hospital stay had a HR of 1.6, (1.1, 2.5, p = 0.01) for remaining in the hospital. Patients who had statistically significant higher odds of requiring intubation were those who presented with any neurological chief complaint, OR = 2.8 (1.3,5.8, p = 0.01), or with headaches OR = 13.3 (2.1,257.0, p = 0.008). Patients with AMS during the hospital stay, as well as those who had seizures, were more likely to need intubation. In the multivariate model, dialysis, OR = 4.9 (2.6,9.4, p < 0.0001), and AMS, OR = 8.8 (3.9,21.2, p < 0.0001), were the only independent predictors of intubation. Neurological complaints at presentation and during the hospital stay are associated with a higher risk of death, prolonged hospital stay, and intubation. More work is needed to determine whether the cause of the neurological complaints was direct CNS involvement by the virus or the other systemic complications of the virus.