Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with epilepsy: Findings from the Brazilian arm of the COV-E study
Andraus M., Thorpe J., Tai XY., Ashby S., Hallab A., Ding D., Dugan P., Perucca P., Costello D., French JA., O'Brien TJ., Depondt C., Andrade DM., Sengupta R., Delanty N., Jette N., Newton CR., Brodie MJ., Devinsky O., Helen Cross J., Li LM., Silvado C., Moura L., Cosenza H., Messina JP., Hanna J., Sander JW., Sen A.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on people and healthcare services. The disruption to chronic illnesses, such as epilepsy, may relate to several factors ranging from direct infection to secondary effects from healthcare reorganization and social distancing measures. Objectives: As part of the COVID-19 and Epilepsy (COV-E) global study, we ascertained the effects of COVID-19 on people with epilepsy in Brazil, based on their perspectives and those of their caregivers. We also evaluated the impact of COVID-19 on the care delivered to people with epilepsy by healthcare workers. Methods: We designed separate online surveys for people with epilepsy and their caregivers. A further survey for healthcare workers contained additional assessments of changes to working patterns, productivity, and concerns for those with epilepsy under their care. The Brazilian arm of COV-E initially collected data from May to November 2020 during the country's first wave. We also examined national data to identify the Brazilian states with the highest COVID-19 incidence and related mortality. Lastly, we applied this geographic grouping to our data to explore whether local disease burden played a direct role in difficulties faced by people with epilepsy. Results: Two hundred and forty-one people returned the survey, 20% were individuals with epilepsy (n = 48); 22% were caregivers (n = 53), and 58% were healthcare workers (n = 140). Just under half (43%) of people with epilepsy reported health changes during the pandemic, including worsening seizure control, with specific issues related to stress and impaired mental health. Of respondents prescribed antiseizure medication, 11% reported difficulty taking medication on time due to problems acquiring prescriptions and delayed or canceled medical appointments. Only a small proportion of respondents reported discussing significant epilepsy-related risks in the previous 12 months. Analysis of national COVID-19 data showed a higher disease burden in the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro compared to Brazil as a whole. There were, however, no geographic differences observed in survey responses despite variability in the incidence of COVID-19. Conclusion: Our findings suggest that Brazilians with epilepsy have been adversely affected by COVID-19 by factors beyond infection or mortality. Mental health issues and the importance of optimal communication are critical during these difficult times. Healthcare services need to find nuanced approaches and learn from shared international experiences to provide optimal care for people with epilepsy as the direct burden of COVID-19 improves in some countries. In contrast, others face resurgent waves of the pandemic.