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Can ASD be a Risk Factor for COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a flu-like virus that can rapidly progress into atypical pneumonia and can obstruct other important systems such as the cardiovascular, digestive, and immune pathways. Doctors and researchers have identified various underlying health conditions that pose a risk factor for COVID-19, such as diabetes, hypertension, coronary disease, and many others. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to heighten, infecting millions of people globally, researchers are curious to determine if there is a correlation between COVID-19 and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This is of particular interest since many individuals with ASD have comorbid gastrointestinal as well as immune disorders. 

An article in the Medical Hypotheses journal discloses that although ASD is a brainbased neurodevelopmental disorder that is distinguished by social and cognitive impairments. The increasing ASD prevalence in the last few years may be due to potential risk factors. The authors suggest that the growth in ASD frequency is supported by data analysis, which depicts that the physiopathology of ASD consists of multiple genetic and immune system modifications. A prime example is the increase of inflammatory cytokines and abnormal immune responses, which contribute to chronic pro-inflammatory conditions in the body. Peripheral and central cytokines have been shown to increase risk for many disorders including depression, anxiety, and obesity, which individuals with autism experience at higher porporations than the neurotypical population.   Studies show that some of these symptoms are common in the conditions that are considered risk factors of COVID-19, so a correlation between the two may be possible. In addition, COVID-19 has neuroinvasive abilities, comprising of febrile seizures, encephalitis, convulsions, and changes in mental status; other COVID-19 patients suffer from headaches, dizziness, and confusion, so the severity of a patient’s neurological disorder likely determines their COVID-19 symptoms. The authors also discussed that ASD patients present higher levels of viral and bacterial seromarkers and an increased diagnosis of various infections, such as the common cold. 

From these findings, it can be hypothesized that COVID-19 may have a convincing relationship with the nervous system and ASD patients. This article discloses several detailed, concise, and valid arguments regarding the correlation between COVID-19 and ASD patients. Similarities between the exposure and risks of the two conditions are well-presented, even though researchers still have not fully dissected the coronavirus. However, this article does not present many qualitative arguments regarding the relationship between COVID-19 and ASD, so it is important to note that the similarities in immune and genetic factors may be purely coincidental and due to the vast complexities of both diseases. 

Furthermore, all patients diagnosed with ASD present various degrees of severity. Since the levels of ASD range from mild to severe symptoms, this article should not make a generalized claim regarding the spectrum as a whole, since not all ASD patients display the same physiopathological processes. As a result, further studies, including qualitative research, are necessary and critical to confirm the correlation between COVID-19 and the Autism Spectrum

  Disorder. Lima, M. E. de S., Barros, L. C. M., & Aragão, G. F. (2020). Could autism spectrum disorders be a risk factor for COVID-19? Medical Hypotheses, 144, 109899.

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