A study on the subject was published in the journal Nature. The researchers completed autopsies from April 2020 to March 2021 of 44 unvaccinated people who had severe COVID-19. The median age was 62.5 years old, and 30% were female. Extensive brain sampling was done for 11 cases.
Because of its nature as a respiratory illness, SARS-CoV-2 was most widespread in the respiratory system such as in the lungs. But it was also found in 79 other body locations, including the heart, kidneys, liver, muscles, nerves, reproductive tract, and eyes.
The researchers said their work shows the SARS-CoV-2 “is capable of infecting and replicating within the human brain.” They also said their results indicate the virus spreads via the blood early during infection, which “seeds the virus throughout the body following infection of the respiratory tract.”
The authors noted that, while the virus was found outside the respiratory tract, they did not find signs of inflammation beyond the respiratory system.
The results will help narrow down treatments for long COVID, and particularly support the idea of using the antiviral drug Paxlovid to treat long COVID, according to a blog post from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A clinical trial is already underway examining the treatment, and results are expected in January 2024.
A version of this article first appeared on WebMD.com.