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Danville, Pa. – Geisinger scientists recently led an international team of experts in a study of the correlation between COVID-19 infection and stroke risk.

The team included clinicians from 99 medical centers in 11 countries, with Ramin Zand, M.D., a vascular neurologist and clinician-scientist at Geisinger, taking the lead. Shima Shahjouei, M.D., a postdoctoral stroke fellow, coordinated the study.

COVID-19 can reportedly cause unusual effects on the nervous system, including loss of smell or taste, altered mental state, meningitis, and stroke.

During the first phase of the study, scientists used data on 26,175 COVID patients to determine a .5% to 1.2% stroke risk among hospitalized COVID patients.

This part of the study demonstrated that even though there are increasing reports of COVID patients experiencing stroke, the overall risk remains low.

“For clinicians, knowing the rate of stroke among COVID-19 patients is important when deciding to order confirmatory brain imaging for stroke diagnosis,” said Dr. Zand. “Having a clear understanding of the rate of stroke among hospitalized patients with COVID-19 infection is the first step towards better patient management and risk mitigation.”

The study results were published this month in EbioMedicine, a publication of The Lancet.

Using data collected through this coordinated effort, the COVID-19 Stroke Study Group is exploring the leading causes of stroke, related complications, age of onset, and severity of stroke among COVID-19 hospitalized patients using an even larger cohort from more than 30 countries.

The team is also exploring innovative methods, including machine learning algorithms, to extract patterns and identify possible risk factors. The team hopes to increase patient chances of recovery by monitoring the key factors linked to poor outcomes among this vulnerable population.

“Our experience using machine learning and artificial intelligence has been very positive here at Geisinger, and we see huge potential to continue its use during these uncertain times,” said Vida Abedi, Ph.D., a scientist in the department of molecular and functional genomics at Geisinger.

“We are well equipped to break new ground in identifying potential venues to improve care for stroke patients, even as they are affected by COVID-19 infection and its related complications," Abedi said.

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