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Human cold virus linked to neurological conditions

Virologists have shown, for the first time, a direct link between strain a strain of a human coronavirus and neurological disease in humans. This finding suggests the neuropathological effects of this virus are responsible for approximately 20 percent of common colds, as well as more severe respiratory conditions in vulnerable people.

The strain of virus to which the research relates to is strain OC 43, and the finding has been detected through a joint study between British and Quebec researchers. The finding relates to a case of a young child who died from encephalitis. Encephalitis is a sudden onset inflammation of the brain. Symptoms include headache, fever, confusion, drowsiness and fatigue.

Medics noted that the child displayed severe immunodeficiency. The causative pathogen was not possible to identify using conventional methods. More novel approaches showed the disease to be caused by strain OC-43 of the human coronavirus. Human coronavirus OC43 is an enveloped, positive-stranded RNA virus in the species Betacoronavirus-1.

Discussing the methods used to identify the virus in a research note, the lead scientist, Professor Pierre Talbot of the INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier Center explained: “Among the methods used, deep sequencing of biopsy materials provides an important tool for the diagnosis of unexplained encephalitis, particularly in immunodeficient patients who have undergone stem cell transplantation.”

These results confirm the hypothesis that the human respiratory coronavirus can cause certain neurological diseases of unknown origin. These conditions include multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and encephalitis.

The significance of the outcome is that the novel methods could make it easier for medics to adapt specific treatments better tailored to patient conditions.

The findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine, with the research paper headed “Human Coronavirus OC43 Associated with Fatal Encephalitis.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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