One of the biggest drawbacks of getting sick COVID-19 is the inability to be near friends or family during quarantine. But can the virus make it difficult to recognize loved ones at all?
A recent study in the journal Cortex suggests it’s possible. Researchers at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshirereported the first case of prosopagnosia (also known as “face blindness”) as a symptom following COVID-19 infection.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines prosopagnosia as “a neurological disorder characterized by the inability to recognize faces.”
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The condition is caused by “congenital influence, damage, or disorder in a fold in the brain that appears to coordinate the neural systems that control face perception and memory,” the website says.
Woman can no longer recognize relatives after COVID
The study focused on a 28-year-old woman named Annie, who contracted COVID in March 2020. Before that, Annie had no trouble recognizing faces — but two months after contracting the virus, she struggled to identify even her closest relatives.
In one example, Annie reported that she couldn’t recognize her father’s face when she passed him in a restaurant, saying it was like “my father’s voice came from a stranger’s face.”
She told investigators she now relies on people’s voices as a means of identification.
During tests, Annie was able to identify objects and scenes, but not familiar faces.
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She also reported deficiencies in her navigational skills, as she now struggles to find her way through a supermarket, locate her parked car without assistance, or remember directions to frequently visited locations. (The researchers listed navigation difficulties as a common symptom in patients with prosopagnosia.)
Researchers also collected survey responses from 54 people with lung COVID. A majority reported having problems with visual recognition and navigation.
“Annie’s results indicate that COVID-19 can cause severe and selective neuropsychological impairment similar to deficits seen after brain damageand it appears that high-level visual impairment is not uncommon in people with long COVID,” the researchers wrote.
Long COVID refers to a condition where the symptoms of the virus persist for more than 12 weeks after the initial infection.
COVID-19 has been more commonly associated with others neurological symptomsincluding the loss of taste and smell, difficulty with speech, visual disturbances and psychosis, the researchers wrote.
Limitations emphasize the need for more research
Dr. Zachary Hoy, a board-certified pediatric infectious disease specialist at Pediatrix Medical Group Nashville, Tennwho was not involved in the study pointed out that several studies have appeared describing the long-term neurological impairments caused by COVID.
“It was like my father’s voice came from a stranger’s face.”
“This one describes facial recognition as one of the major case study patient deficiencies, but goes on to describe different tests used in determining various neurocognitive deficits,” he told Fox News Digital via email.
“I predict we will find more of these studies as more patients with long-term COVID [are] identified.”
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The study did have some limitations. For example, Annie didn’t get an MRI scan of her brain due to insurance restrictions, which means there’s a possibility that a stroke may have triggered her symptoms.
Annie was also not tested for COVID-19 due to a lack of available test kits; her GP diagnosed her.
“It is unfortunate that in this study the case-control patient did not undergo a COVID PCR test, COVID antibody test, or brain MRI imaging,” said Dr. Hoy from Nashville.
“Control group members were from a COVID support group, but it did not describe the definition or inclusion/exclusion criteria. It mentions that control group members had contracted COVID, but it did not describe what that meant in relation to COVID testing .”
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The doctor added that while this study did a good job of describing and comparing different neurocognitive tests, more rigorous testing is needed to strengthen the conclusions.
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Fox News Digital contacted the study’s authors in Dartmouth for comment.