Long Covid remains one of my personal biggest concerns about this pandemic. Who gets it? Why? Sure, I'm vaccinated, but I'm also already dealing with things like asthma and a neurodivergent brain. The thought of suffering from some perpetual low-grade mystery hangover (or worse) terrifies me.
But there are some researchers who may have a potential solution: electrical neurostimulation, also known as zapping your brain with electricity and hoping for the best. As Spectrum reports, the experimental treatment has already been used to help shorten the time that people hospitalized with COVID spend on ventilators. And now, there are early tests into the impact of electricity on Long Covid:
[Leigh Charvet, a professor of neurology at NYU Grossman School of Medicine] has tried transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) with a handful of people so far. A patient puts on an electrode-studded headband that's attached to a controller and calls the study coordinator, who provides a unique code to enable that day's stimulation. During the 20-minute stimulation session, the patient also does a therapeutic activity such as a cognitive game, and may also do some physical exercise after the session. Charvet says the research so far has been "a testing ground—it's not scientific, it's not controlled." Patients have come to her for help with brain fog, fatigue, headaches, emotional dysregulation, and other problems, and she tweaks the treatment protocols based on each person's symptoms.
She's now planning a larger trial with NYU patients that's intended to optimize the technology for at-home treatments. The trial will debut a tDCS headband that also tracks heart-rate variability; she and her colleagues hope that this biomarker will serve as an indicator of the patient's response to treatment. They'll use a headset made by Soterix Medical that measures the impedance in the electrodes and translates that signal into heart-rate data. "What drives us is that there's a tremendous unmet need," Charvet says. "And our patients are getting better."
The article also talks about another study out of the Medical University of South Carolina, which has treating patients with an at-home neurostimulation device that works through the vagus nerve in the ear.
The impacts on Long Covid are still yet to be seen (particularly since the length and seriousness of Long Covid are also yet to be fully understand). But this sort of electroshock therapy is so crazy it might actually work.
Zapping the Brain and Nerves Could Treat Long COVID: Pilot studies test electrical treatments for the still-mysterious malady [Eliza Strickland / IEEE Spectrum]
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