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Henry Ford: COVID-19 patient developed rare nervous system infection

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A 58-year-old woman being treated with COVID-19 within the Henry Ford Health System has developed encephalitis. 

The central nervous system infection is “unusual” because it is not commonly associated with coronavirus, which often affects the lungs, the Detroit-based health system said Wednesday. 

The development came as Henry Ford Health reported it has hospitalized 594 patients with COVID-19 among its five hospitals. The health system has a total of 360 intensive care unit beds and about 150 negative pressure isolation rooms.

The acute necrotizing encephalitis with which the woman was diagnosed usually affects children and “is associated with poor clinical outcomes,” according to the Wednesday statement. The woman is in serious condition. 

The hospital system reported the case online Tuesday in the journal Radiology and believes it is the first published case examining a link between encephalitis and COVID-19. 

“This is significant for all providers to be aware of and looking out for in patients who present with an altered level of consciousness,” Henry Ford neurologist Dr. Elissa Fory said in a Wednesday statement. “We need to be thinking of how we’re going to incorporate patients with severe neurological disease into our treatment paradigm. This complication is as devastating as severe lung disease.”

The woman diagnosed with the condition at Henry Ford had a fever, cough and muscle aches for several days before she was taken to the emergency department at Henry Ford on March 19, according to the statement. 

At the hospital, she also showed signs of “confusion, lethargy and disorientation." She tested positive for COVID-19, and an MRI scan showed “abnormal adhesions” in parts of her brain controlling sensation, memory and consciousness, the health system said. 

“The team had suspected encephalitis at the outset, but then back-to-back CT and MRI scans made the diagnosis,” Fory said. 

Children typically develop ANE after coming down with chickenpox, enterovirus or the flu.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com