A new study published in Psychiatry Research suggests that experiencing a serious case of COVID-19 is associated with increased risk of developing schizophrenia.
COVID-19 has had massive effects on society and many individuals’ health that will continue for years to come. In addition to serious physical health outcomes, it has been shown to be linked to declines in mental health that come from neuropsychological effects of the disease. COVID-19 can affect the nervous system, metabolism, and brain function. Despite our increasing knowledge of the negative effects of COVID-19, people have begun a return to normalcy and society has lifted mask mandates.
For their new study, Ancha Baranova and colleagues utilized data from two Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS). This included one for the SARS-CoV-2 infection and one for hospitalized COVID-19 cases. Datasets included 122,616 cases of SARS, 32,519 cases of COVID-19, and 53,386 cases of schizophrenia, in addition to controls for each group.
A genome-wide association study (GWAS) is a type of genetic research that looks for associations between genes and particular traits or conditions. Often, GWAS research is used to identify genes that may be involved in certain diseases.
The data allowed the researchers to examine the topic using the Mendelian randomization framework, a research method that uses genetic variation to study the relationship between exposures and outcomes. By comparing the effects of different variants of a gene, researchers can identify which exposures are associated with which outcomes. This approach has several advantages over traditional observational studies. First, it can help to control for confounding variables. Second, it can provide insight into causal relationships.
The researchers found that COVID-19 cases that resulted in hospitalization were associated with an 11% increase in risk for developing schizophrenia. This points to a poignant need for assessment for schizophrenia as a post-COVID hospitalization protocol. While genetic liability to severe COVID-19 was associated with increased schizophrenia risk, this was not true for genetic liability to SARS-CoV-2. The risk of schizophrenia from COVID-19 was found to be dependent on severity of the illness.
This study took steps into better understanding a very serious outcome that can occur after a severe coronavirus infection. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that this study only took genetic factors into account. This is significant because it is well-known that environment is an important factor in both schizophrenia and COVID-19. Additionally, all participants in the GWAS datasets were of European descent; future research could have a more inclusive sample.
The study, “Severe COVID-19 increased the risk of schizophrenia“, was authored by Ancha Baranova, Hongbao Cao, and Fuquan Zhang.