Cases That Test Your Skills

New-onset psychosis while being treated for coronavirus

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While receiving treatment for COVID-19, Mr. G, age 56, experiences an acute psychotic episode. He has no known psychiatric history. What could be causing his symptoms?



CASE Agitated, psychotic, and COVID-19–positive

Mr. G, age 56, is brought to the emergency department (ED) by emergency medical services (EMS) after his girlfriend reports that he was trying to climb into the “fiery furnace” to “burn the devil within him.” Mr. G had recently tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) via polymerase chain reaction and had been receiving treatment for it. In the ED, he is distressed and repeatedly exclaims, “The devil is alive!” He insists on covering himself with blankets, despite diaphoresis and soaking through his clothing within minutes. Because he does not respond to attempted redirection, the ED clinicians administer a single dose of IM haloperidol, 2 mg, for agitation.

HISTORY Multiple ED visits and hospitalizations

Mr. G, who has no known psychiatric history, lives with his girlfriend of 10 years. His medical history includes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and prostate cancer. In 2015, he had a radical prostatectomy, without chemotherapy. His social history includes childhood neglect, which prompted him to leave home when he was a teenager. Mr. G had earned his general education development certificate and worked at a small retail store.

Mr. G had no previous history of mental health treatment per self-report, collateral information from his girlfriend, and chart review. He reported no known family psychiatric history. He did not endorse past psychiatric admissions or suicide attempts, nor previous periods of mania, depression, or psychosis. He said he used illicit substances as a teen, but denied using alcohol, tobacco products, or illicit substances in the past 20 years.

Mr. G recently had multiple ED visits and hospitalizations due to ongoing signs and symptoms associated with his COVID-19 diagnosis, primarily worsening shortness of breath and cough. Eleven days before EMS brought him to the ED at his girlfriend’s request, Mr. G had presented to the ED with chief complaints of shortness of breath and dry cough (Day 0). He reported that he had been “running a fever” for 2 days. In the ED, his initial vital signs were notable only for a temperature of 100.9°F (38.28°C). He was diagnosed with “acute viral syndrome” and received 1 dose of IV ceftriaxone, 2 g, and IV azithromycin, 500 mg. On Day 2, the ED clinicians prescribed a 4-day course of oral azithromycin, 250 mg/d, and discharged him home.

On Day 3, Mr. G returned to the ED with similar complaints—congestion and productive cough. He tested positive for COVID-19, and the ED discharged him home with quarantine instructions. Hours later, he returned to the ED via EMS with chief complaints of chest pain, diarrhea, and myalgias. He was prescribed a 5-day course ofoseltamivir, 75 mg twice daily, and azithromycin, 250 mg/d. The ED again discharged him home.

On Day 4, Mr. G returned to the ED for a fourth time. His chief complaint was worsening shortness of breath. His oxygen saturation was 94% on room air; it improved to 96% on 2 L of oxygen. His chest X-ray showed diffuse reticulonodular opacities throughout his bilateral lung fields and increased airspace opacification in the bilateral lower lobes. The ED admitted Mr. G to an internal medicine unit, where the primary treatment team enrolled him in a clinical trial. As part of the trial, Mr. G received hydroxychloroquine, 400 mg, on Day 4 and Day 5. The placebo-controlled component of the trial involved Mr. G receiving daily infusions of either remdesivir or placebo on Day 6 through Day 8. On Day 8, Mr. G was discharged home.

On Day 9, Mr. G returned to the ED with a chief complaint that his “thermometer wasn’t working” at home. The ED readmitted him to the internal medicine unit. On Day 9 through Day 11, Mr. G received daily doses of oral levofloxacin, 500 mg, and daily infusions of remdesivir/placebo. Mr. G received 6 total remdesivir/placebo infusions.

Continue to: During the second hospitalization...


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