PNS Keynote Speaker

COVID-19 and the Nervous System: What We Know (and Don't Know)

Sunday 28 June 2020
James Sejvar, MD: Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, National Center for Emerging and Zooonotic Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, USA 


Dr. Sejvar graduated from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio in 1991 (B.A.).  In 1996, he obtained his medical degree from Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire.  He received his training in neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, completing residency in 2000. He then did a fellowship in applied field epidemiology through CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service.  Following completion of the program in 2002, he remained at CDC, where he serves as a neuroepidemiologist at CDC’s Divisions of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology.  He is board-certified in neurology, and serves on the faculty of the Department of Neurology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. 

His current research focus centers on the epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical features, and outcomes of infections of the nervous system.  He has conducted numerous studies focusing on viral encephalitis, post-infectious nervous system disorders, prion diseases, and infectious etiologies of acute flaccid paralysis.  He currently focuses on the establishment of surveillance for etiologies of viral encephalitis and infectious acute flaccid paralysis; and developing intervention strategies for prevention and control of neurologic infections. His research also focuses on neurologic adverse events following immunizations.

COVID-19 and the Nervous System: What We Know (and Don't Know)

The past few decades have seen a steady progression of emerging infectious pathogens – from West Nile virus to Nipah virus and Ebola to Zika.  However, no pathogen has affected the globe the way that Coronavirus-2019, or COVID-19, has.  It has impacted nearly every facet of our lives, and has fundamentally changed the way that we live, quite possibly forever.  SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a coronavirus, a large family of viruses that usually causes mild illness with congestion, fever, headache, and cough.  However SARS-CoV-2 is a highly contagious, highly pathogenic virus.  In it’s most severe cases, which occur mainly among elderly persons or those with weakened immune systems, it can rapidly lead to lower respiratory infection, hypoxia, and death.

Though most cases of COVID-19 are characterized by respiratory features – fever, cough, shortness of breath – there is increasing evidence that SARS-CoV-2 may be a multi-organ pathogen that can lead, in some cases, to hepatotoxicity, renal problems, and vascular pathology.  There are also increasing reports of neurologic illness related to COVID-19.  This talk will explore what we know about the epidemiology, virology, and pathogenesis of COVID-19.  The potential effect on the nervous system, including the evidence for encephalitis, stroke, anosmia, and movement disorders, will be explored.  More specifically on the peripheral nervous system there are growing reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome following COVID-19, as well as other peripheral nerve manifestations and myopathy.  We will also explore the unanswered questions regarding COVID-19 and neurology, including mechanisms by which SARS-CoV-2 could reach the central nervous system, cause hypercoaguability, and lead to rapid death.  Finally, the future predictions on the epidemiology of COVID-19 will be postulated.


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