A study suggests that prolonged symptoms of COVID-19 may be associated with difficulties recognising faces, a condition called face blindness, and navigation issues. In previous studies, COVID-19 has been shown to cause a range of neurological problems, including loss of smell and taste, as well as impairments in attention, memory, speech, and language, or “brain fog.”
A new study published in the journal Cortex reports the first case of prosopagnosia, or face blindness, following symptoms of COVID-19.
It has been estimated that between 2 and 2.5 percent of people around the world suffer from this condition.
Annie, a 28-year-old customer service representative and part-time portrait artist in the US, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in March 2020 and suffered a symptom relapse two months later.
The first time I met Annie, she told me she was unable to recognize the faces of her family,” said Marie-Luise Kieseler, a graduate student at Dartmouth College in the US, adding Annie now recognizes people by their voices.
Aside from navigational deficits, Annie has also had difficulty remembering where particular sections of her grocery store are and relies on Google maps and its pin feature to remember where her car is parked.
Having prosopagnosia and navigational deficits in Annie caught our attention because they often go hand in hand when someone has suffered brain damage or developmental difficulties, said Dartmouth professor Brad Duchaine, a senior author of the study.
According to Duchaine, “This co-occurrence is probably caused by the two abilities relying on neighbouring brain regions in the temporal lobe.”
Several possible mechanisms may explain how long Covid may cause face blindness, according to Dr. Vinit Suri, Senior Consultant, Neurology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi.
According to Suri, long Covid can cause a range of neurological symptoms that may affect the brain regions responsible for face recognition. This can lead to difficulty processing visual information and recognising familiar faces.
As a result, Covid-19 can cause inflammation and damage to the blood vessels, resulting in reduced blood flow to the brain. This can result in brain damage and cognitive impairments, such as face blindness,” he said.
Annie was evaluated for her problems with face recognition and other perceptual and cognitive abilities by the research team.
During a test, Annie was presented with 60 pictures of celebrities and asked to identify them sequentially. In contrast to most people, who are able to correctly identify 84 percent of familiar celebrities, Annie correctly identified 29 percent of the 48 celebrities she was familiar with.
In the second test, Annie was shown a celebrity’s name and then presented with images of two faces: one of the celebrity and one of someone similar, and she was asked to identify which face belonged to the celebrity.
The celebrity was identified in 69 percent of the 58 trials, compared with 87 percent in the control group.
It wasn’t just that Annie couldn’t recall a famous person’s name or biographical information that she knew, but she really struggles to learn new identities, according to Kieseler.
Additionally, 54 individuals who had long COVID with symptoms for 12 weeks or longer and 32 persons who had fully recovered from COVID-19 provided self-reported data to the research team.
The majority of respondents with long COVID reported that their cognitive and perceptual abilities had decreased.
According to Kieseler, a broad majority of people in the long COVID group reported noticeable difficulties doing things they had no difficulties doing before contracting COVID-19.
This study highlights the kinds of perceptual problems that can be caused by COVID-19 – this is something physicians and other health care professionals should be aware of.
This is the first report of long COVID-induced prosopagnosia, according to Dr. Atul Prasad, Principal Director & Head of Neurology, BLK-Max Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi.
Prasad told PTI that the more we study the virus, the more we realize how much damage it can cause during acute infection as well as after infection has settled.
The severity and duration of symptoms can vary widely among people with long Covid, according to Suri.
The relationship between long Covid and face blindness needs to be better understood and effective treatments and interventions developed, he said.