KEY POINTS

  • A study has found a link between COVID-19 and a rare neurological condition called acute transverse myelitis 
  • About 43 COVID-19 patients from 21 different countries exhibited features of ATM and its symptoms 
  • Health experts emphasize the need to continue wearing face masks and observing social distancing amid the pandemic

As more and more COVID-19 side effects continue to emerge, scientists are now looking into a rare neurological condition that has been manifesting in patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

In a study led by Dr. Gustavo Roman, a Houston Methodist neurologist, several cases of acute transverse myelitis (ATM) have been determined in COVID-19 patients. The findings of the research were published Monday on Frontiers in Immunology's website.

Acute transverse myelitis (ATM), or the inflammation of the spinal cord, has been described as a possible side effect of the coronavirus. Considered a rare neurological condition, ATM's symptoms include paralysis and sphincter/ bowel dysfunction paired with spinal cord lesions, Eurekalert reported.

The study, which observed COVID-19 patients from 21 different countries, found that about 43 of the subjects exhibited typical features of ATM. Consisting of 23 males (53%) and 20 females (47%), ranging in age from 21 to 73 years old (mean age of 49 years), Dr. Roman and his team found ATM to be an unexpected neurological complication brought about by COVID-19.

Because of ATM's rarity, not many are familiar with the condition and the alarming effects it could bring.

Spine Universe published a report last November that linked COVID-19 to transverse myelitis. Known to be caused by infections and immune system disorders, transverse myelitis damages the body's myelin.

"Myelin is an insulating layer that forms around nerves. It is made up of protein and fatty substances and it serves as a defensive sheath that allows electrical impulses to transmit quickly and efficiently along the nerve cells," Spine Universe explained on its site.

Myelin plays a vital role in cognition and normal motor function, and any damage to it can cause a variety of complications such as muscle spasms, twitching and numbness.

Several ways to recognize the condition include looking into the four major features of transverse myelitis, which are weakness of the legs and arms, bowel and bladder dysfunction, lower back pain, and sensory alterations in the legs, torso and genital regions.

There is no cure for transverse myelitis, and most people with this condition only have at least a partial recovery. For some, the recovery time could even reach two years, which is why health experts continue to reiterate the importance of wearing face masks and observing social distancing amid the pandemic.

A patient infected with Covid-19 lays in a bed in the intensive care unit of the Saint-Camille hospital, in Bry-Sur-Marne, east of Paris Representational image of a patient infected with COVID-19. Photo: AFP / Anne-Christine POUJOULAT