Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis After SARS-CoV-2 Vaccination

BACKGROUND: Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is a disorder of the central nervous system which has been associated with preceding infection as well as vaccinations. We present a case of a 61-year-old woman with ADEM after receiving her initial vaccination for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). This case highlights management of this acute condition.

CASE REPORT: A 61-year-old woman with history of hypertension and anxiety presented with progressive generalized weakness and difficulty with communication which began a few weeks ago, shortly after receiving the Pfizer vaccine for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). On arrival, she was found to be encephalopathic and tachypneic, ultimately requiring emergent intubation. During her hospital course, an MRI of her brain was obtained which showed nonspecific acute versus subacute leukoencephalopathy involving the brainstem and deep white matter. Her cerebrospinal fluid showed elevated protein but was otherwise unremarkable. Further testing to rule out tick-borne illnesses, viral etiology, and multiple sclerosis were negative. Electroencephalography showed nonspecific diffuse cerebral dysfunction but no seizures or epileptiform discharges. She was treated with 5 doses of methylprednisolone 1 g and intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) 2 g/kg over 5 days. She had marked improvement in her neurologic status after treatment.

CONCLUSIONS: In conclusion, ADEM should be acknowledged as a rare but potential complication related to COVID-19 vaccination. A proper history and physical exam in addition to a thorough work-up are necessary for prompt recognition of this condition. Initial treatment should consist of steroids followed by IVIG versus plasmapheresis for those not responsive to steroids.