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Frontiers in systems neuroscience ; 16, 2022.
Article in English | EuropePMC | ID: covidwho-1970646


Psychological distress among healthcare professionals, although already a common condition, was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This effect has been generally self-reported or assessed through questionnaires. We aimed to identify potential abnormalities in the electrical activity of the brain of healthcare workers, operating in different roles during the pandemic. Cortical activity, cognitive performances, sleep, and burnout were evaluated two times in 20 COVID-19 frontline operators (FLCO, median age 29.5 years) and 20 operators who worked in COVID-19-free units (CFO, median 32 years): immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic (first session) and almost 6 months later (second session). FLCO showed higher theta relative power over the entire scalp (FLCO = 19.4%;CFO = 13.9%;p = 0.04) and lower peak alpha frequency of electrodes F7 (FLCO = 10.4 Hz;CFO = 10.87 Hz;p = 0.017) and F8 (FLCO = 10.47 Hz;CFO = 10.87 Hz;p = 0.017) in the first session. FLCO parietal interhemispheric coherence of theta (FLCO I = 0.607;FLCO II = 0.478;p = 0.025) and alpha (FLCO I = 0.578;FLCO II = 0.478;p = 0.007) rhythms decreased over time. FLCO also showed lower scores in the global cognitive assessment test (FLCO = 22.72 points;CFO = 25.56;p = 0.006) during the first session. The quantitative evaluation of the cortical activity might therefore reveal early signs of changes secondary to stress exposure in healthcare professionals, suggesting the implementation of measures to prevent serious social and professional consequences.