Editor's Note: A Prospective Study of Neurologic Disorders in Hospitalized Patients With COVID-19 in New York City

Dr. Frontera et al. examined the prevalence and associated mortality of well-defined neurologic diagnoses in a prospective, multicenter, observational study of 4,491 consecutive hospitalized adults in the New York City (NYC) metropolitan area with laboratory-confirmed Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection. Neurologic disorders were diagnosed in 13.5% of these patients with coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) and were associated with higher in-hospital mortality and lower likelihood of discharge home. In response, Dr. Kumar et al. contrast the most common neurologic clinical diagnoses in this study (toxic/metabolic encephalopathy, stroke, seizure, and hypoxic/ischemic brain injury) with the most common imaging diagnoses in another study by Dr. Kremer et al. of patients with COVID-19 who underwent brain MRI (ischemic strokes, leptomeningeal enhancement, and encephalitis). They note that the study by Dr. Frontera et al. reported raised protein in the CSF in several of the patients, suggestive of intrathecal inflammation as may be seen with meningitis/encephalitis, although white cell counts were low. They wonder whether the low frequency of brain MRI in the study may have led to underdetection of meningitis/encephalitis. In another response, Dr. Liotta et al. note that they reported similar rates of stroke, seizure, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, encephalitis, and meningitis in their recent Chicago-based study but had higher rates of encephalopathy. They note that in their own study, they adjudicated all charts, not just those for patients receiving neurologic consultations, and used protocolized delirium assessments to identify encephalopathy. They contend that Dr. Frontera et al. may have missed several cases of encephalopathy with their methodology and suggest that excluding headache as a neurologic symptom may have limited the scope of SARS-CoV-2 neuropathogenesis. They also note the lower in-hospital mortality in their cohort, potentially related to the absence of an overwhelming case surge in Chicago compared with NYC, and emphasize the importance of public health measures against COVID-19 to help sustain health care infrastructure. Responding to these comments, the authors question whether patients in the imaging study by Dr. Kremer et al. actually met accepted diagnostic criteria for encephalitis, noting that CSF SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR (reverse transcription PCR) was negative in 20 patients and positing that some of the imaging findings could have represented postinfectious encephalitis. They also caution that many of the reported MRI findings are nonspecific and can be seen with nonencephalitic conditions, in particular hypoxic/ischemic injury, given the high frequency of acute respiratory distress syndrome and supplemental oxygen requirement among these patients. They also note that the elevated CSF protein in their own study is a nonspecific finding and highlight the need to follow rigorous standards when ascribing meningitis/encephalitis to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Regarding their lower rates of encephalopathy compared with the Chicago study, the authors argue that they coded toxic-metabolic encephalopathy only in patients off sedation or after a sedation washout, whereas the Chicago study may have included patients with sedation-related delirium, which may have different outcomes than other etiologies of encephalopathy. However, they acknowledge that they may have underestimated the overall prevalence of neurologic injury in the most critically ill patients who could not be assessed off sedation, or who were unable to express other neurologic symptoms. Notwithstanding the older age of their cohort, they agree that the critical surge and strain on health care resources in NYC likely affected mortality and echo the importance of public health measures to stem such surges. This exchange demonstrates important differences that can arise in incidence or frequency estimates of different neurologic manifestations in COVID-19 based on the methodology that is followed.

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