An estimated 3.39 billion people, over 40% of the world's population, have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 at least once as of November 2021, according to the medical journal The Lancet. Even though most have largely recovered from the infection that has killed over 6 million, the full long-term effects of COVID-19 remain unknown.
“This isn’t the first time that a flu-like viral infection has been linked to an increased risk for dementia,” says Robyn Klein, director of the Center for Neuroimmunology & Neuroinfectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine, the moderator for the COVID-19 press conference at Neuroscience 2022, the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting. “But one of the most important aspects of this work is the magnitude of people potentially affected by this — millions upon millions.”
Researchers examining the role of inflammation in COVID-19 raise an important question: Will COVID-19 infections lead to a surge in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias?
“We're interested in what happens in the decades to come — there’s so very many people who have recovered from COVID,” says Natalie Tronson of the University of Michigan and senior author of the study on the inflammatory effects of COVID-19. “And this is laid on top of an aging population already with a predicted surge in Alzheimer’s disease. How is COVID going to alter long-term dementia risk?”