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During the earliest days of the pandemic, doctors and researchers were focused on understanding how the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus invades and damages the lungs. But reports of fatigue, brain fog and other cognitive concerns quickly drew attention to a much less intuitive outcome from a respiratory virus – that it could leave an indelible mark on the brain.

As the months and years wore on, these harmful effects on the brain – even in cases of mild infection from the virus – came into sharper focus, and the term “long COVID” became an all-too-common part of the pandemic lexicon.

Now, two new studies in the New England Journal of Medicine are adding another layer to an already bleak picture about how COVID-19 can alter brain structure, function and overall mental health, including significant drops in IQ and reduced memory for years following infection.

Physician scientist and long-COVID researcher Ziyad Al-Aly puts these new studies into context and explores the far-reaching implications for individuals, society and the economy.

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Amanda Mascarelli

Senior Health and Medicine Editor

Research shows that even mild COVID-19 can lead to the equivalent of seven years of brain aging. Victor Habbick Visions/Science Photo Library via Getty Images

Mounting research shows that COVID-19 leaves its mark on the brain, including with significant drops in IQ scores

Ziyad Al-Aly, Washington University in St. Louis

Two new high-profile studies add to the increasingly worrisome picture of how even mild cases of COVID-19 can have detrimental effects on brain health.

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