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New Study Suggests Long Covid May Cause Face Blindness

Long Covid refers to a condition in which symptoms of the virus persist for longer than 12 weeks after the initial infection.

By Mathew KarnalPublished about a year ago 4 min read
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Long COVID-19 infections may cause some people to develop prosopagnosia, otherwise known as “face blindness”, according to a new study.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines face blindness as a “neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognise faces”. Now, a study published in the journal Cortex has suggested that some individuals may develop difficulties recognizing faces and navigational problems, following symptoms consistent with Covid-19.

The study focused on a 28-year-old woman named Annie, who contracted Covid-19 in March 2020. Prior to that, Annie had no trouble recognizing faces. However, two months after contracting the virus, she struggled to identify even her closest family members.

In one instance, Annie reported that she was unable to recognise her father's face when she passed him at a restaurant, saying it was as if “my dad's voice came out of a stranger's face”. She told the researchers that she now relies on people's voices as a means of identification.

The 28-year-old also developed “navigational deficits” after having Covid-19. She revealed that she now struggles to find her way through a grocery store, locate her parked car without help, or remember directions to frequently visited locations.

Researchers, including those from Dartmouth College in the US, also collected survey responses from 54 people with long Covid. They found that a majority reported having problems with visual recognition and navigation abilities.

“Annie's results indicate that COVID-19 can produce severe and selective neuropsychological impairment similar to deficits seen following brain damage, and it appears that high-level visual impairments are not uncommon in people with long COVID,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Notably, long Covid refers to a condition in which symptoms of the virus persist for longer than 12 weeks after the initial infection. The findings, researchers said, highlight the perceptual difficulties with face recognition and navigation that can be caused by Covid-19. They also added, while the study did a good job of describing the testing and comparisons of several neurocognitive tests, more rigorous testing is needed to strengthen its conclusions.

Long covid symptoms ‘linked to face blindness’, says a new study

Long Covid infections may cause some people to develop difficulties recognizing faces and navigational difficulties, according to a new study.

Previous studies have shown that infection with the coronavirus can cause a range of neurological symptoms, such as the loss of smell and taste, as well as impairments in attention and memory known as “brain fog”.

The new study, published in the journal Cortex, suggests some individuals may develop “prosopagnosia”, also known as face blindness, following symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

Researchers, including those from Dartmouth College in the US, assessed a 28-year-old customer service representative and part-time portrait artist identified only as Annie, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 in March 2020.

Annie reported difficulty with face recognition and navigation shortly after her symptoms relapsed two months later.“When I first met Annie, she told me that she was unable to recognise the faces of her family,” study lead author Marie-Laure Kessler said in a statement.

After meeting her parents for the first time after having Covid-19, Annie reported that she could not recognise them.

When she walked past her parents again, her father called out to her, she said.

“It was as if my dad’s voice came out of a stranger’s face,” the 28-year-old said, adding that she now relies on voices to recognise the people that she knows.” The combination of prosopagnosia and navigational deficits that Annie had is something that caught our attention because the two deficits often go hand in hand after somebody either has had brain damage or developmental deficits,” study senior author Brad Duchesne said.

“That co-occurrence is probably due to the two abilities depending on neighbouring brain regions in the temporal lobe,” Dr. Duchesne added. When scientists conducted tests to assess Annie’s problems with face recognition, they discovered that she found it particularly challenging to recognize familiar faces and learn the identities of unfamiliar ones.

In one of the tests, she was sequentially presented with 60 images of celebrity faces and asked to name them.

Annie was then presented with a list of the celebrities featured in the test to see if she knew them.

She correctly identified 29 percent of the 48 celebrities whom she was familiar with compared to a control group of people, who could correctly identify 84 percent of familiar celebrities.

In another test, where Annie was shown a celebrity’s name and then presented with images of two faces – one of a celebrity and another of someone similar.

She could identify the celebrity in 69 percent of the 58 trials, compared to 87 percent in the control group.

“Our results from the test with unfamiliar faces show that it wasn’t just that Annie couldn’t recall the name or biographical information of a famous person that she was familiar with, but she really has trouble learning new identities,” Dr. Kessler explained.

“It’s been known that there are broad cognitive problems that can be caused by Covid-19, but here we’re seeing severe and highly selective problems in Annie, and that suggests there might be a lot of other people who have quite severe and selective deficits following Covid-19,” Dr. Duchesne added.

Researchers then obtained self-reported data from 54 individuals who had long Covid with symptoms for 12 weeks or more, and 32 persons who had reported that they had fully recovered from the infection.

“One of the challenges that many respondents reported was a difficulty with visualizing family and friends, which is something that we often hear from prosopagnosias,” Dr. Duchesne said.

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