COVID-19 isn’t “just the flu.”
We still have so much to learn. While we do know that the majority of the deaths are in our seniors, we know that long-term health consequences do not have an age limit. We do know it can take months for some people to recover; there are enough of them to have a name: “Long Haulers.” We learned recently that there is a strong chance of cardiac issues amongst people who have recovered from COVID-19. We know that there can be organ damage, including lung damage and brain damage.
What we don’t know is what we don’t yet know. And THAT is what scares me the most.
There are long-term consequences of this virus that we know about and more that could take years to develop. Here are some things to consider about what a virus can do to you:
Chicken pox is a virus. Lots of people have had it, and probably don’t think about it much once the initial illness has passed. But it stays in your body and lives there forever, and maybe when you’re older, you have debilitatingly painful outbreaks of shingles. You don’t just get over this virus in a few weeks, never to have another health effect. We know this because it’s been around for years, and has been studied medically for years.
Herpes is also a virus. And once someone has it, it stays in your body and lives there forever, and anytime they get a little run down or stressed-out they’re going to have an outbreak. Maybe every time you have a big event coming up (school pictures, job interview, big date) you’re going to get a cold sore. For the rest of your life. You don’t just get over it in a few weeks. We know this because it’s been around for years, and been studied medically for years.
HIV is a virus. It attacks the immune system, and makes the carrier far more vulnerable to other illnesses. It has a list of symptoms and negative health impacts that goes on and on. It was decades before viable treatments were developed that allowed people to live with a reasonable quality of life. Once you have it, it lives in your body forever and there is no cure. Over time, that takes a toll on the body, putting people living with HIV at greater risk for health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, diabetes, bone disease, liver disease, cognitive disorders, and some types of cancer. We know this because it has been around for years, and had been studied medically for years.
Now with COVID-19, we have a novel virus that spreads rapidly and easily. The full spectrum of symptoms and health effects is only just beginning to be cataloged, much less understood.
So far, the symptoms include:
- Acute respiratory distress
- Lung damage (potentially permanent)
- Loss of taste (a neurological symptom)
- Sore throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Mental confusion
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Strokes have also been reported in some people who have COVID-19 (even in the relatively young)
- Swollen eyes
- Blood clots
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- COVID toes (weird, right?)
People testing positive for COVID-19 have been documented to be sick even after 60 days. Many people are sick for weeks, get better, and then experience a rapid and sudden flare up and get sick all over again. A man in Seattle was hospitalized for 62 days, and while well enough to be released, still has a long road of recovery ahead of him. Not to mention a $1.1 million medical bill.
Then there is MIS-C. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. Children with MIS-C may have a fever and various symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, neck pain, rash, bloodshot eyes, or feeling extra tired. While rare, it has caused deaths.
This disease has not been around for years. It has basically been 6 months. No one knows yet the long-term health effects, or how it may present itself years down the road for people who have been exposed. We literally *do not know* what we do not know.
For those in our society who suggest that people being cautious are cowards, for people who refuse to take even the simplest of precautions to protect themselves and those around them, I want to ask, without hyperbole and in all sincerity:
How dare you?
How dare you risk the lives of others so cavalierly?
How dare you decide for others that they should welcome exposure as “getting it over with,” when literally no one knows who will be the lucky “mild symptoms” case, and who may fall ill and die. Because while we know that some people are more susceptible to suffering a more serious case, we also know that 20- and 30-year-olds have died, marathon runners and fitness nuts have died, children and infants have died.
How dare you behave as though you know more than medical experts, when those same experts acknowledge that there is so much we don’t yet know, but with what we DO know, are smart enough to be scared of how easily this is spread, and recommend baseline precautions such as:
- Frequent hand-washing
- Physical distancing
- Reduced social/public contact or interaction
- Mask wearing
- Covering your cough or sneeze
- Avoiding touching your face
- Sanitizing frequently touched surfaces
The more things we can all do to mitigate our risk of exposure, the better off we all are, in my opinion. Not only does it flatten the curve and allow health care providers to maintain levels of service that aren’t immediately and catastrophically overwhelmed; it also reduces unnecessary suffering and deaths, and buys time for the scientific community to study the virus in order to come to a more full understanding of the breadth of its impacts in both the short and long term.
I reject the notion that it’s “just a virus” and we’ll all get it eventually. What a careless, lazy, heartless stance.
The above message is not my words. They have been shared with many versions. Some attribute this to Dr. Fauci, but Snopes says the original author is probably a woman named Amy Wright. (Good last name!)
As I become aware of additional long-term consequences I will add them here.
Scientists Uncover Long Term Effects of COVID-19, Virus Attacks Vital Organs: https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/scientists-uncover-long-term-effects-of-covid-19-virus-attacks-vital-organs/2358577/
Queensland Health: Health impacts of COVID-19. “As we learn more about the virus (COVID-19) every single day, we’re learning that for a reasonable number of people, they don’t recover, they’ll have long-term consequences from the disease…” Our Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young, explains some of the potential long term health impacts of COVID-19. https://www.facebook.com/QLDHealth/videos/924795394695626
Journal series gives in-depth look at COVID-19’s impact on the heart.
The Journal of the American College of Cardiology ranks among the top cardiovascular journals in the world for its scientific impact. Today (10/19) they made the news, reporting that a quarter of hospitalized patient have myocardial injury. Researchers said that the long-term risk of serious illness for survivors of severe cases of COVID-19 remain uncertain, but early observations are concerning. “It is plausible to assume that COVID-19 survivors will be more vulnerable to long-term cardiac morbidity,” https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/acoc-jsg101520.php
Lifelong Lung Damage: The Serious COVID-19 Complication That Can Hit People in Their 20s: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/lifelong-lung-damage-the-serious-covid-19-complication-that-can-hit-people-in-their-20s
How Covid-19 can damage the brain: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200622-the-long-term-effects-of-covid-19-infection
PSYCHIATRIC CONDITIONS AND DISORDERS
New studies connect COVID-19 with mental health issues. At least three new studies published in the past few days indicate that COVID-19 may be linked to several psychiatric conditions and disorders. Mental health issues including anxiety disorders, insomnia, dementia, and PTSD are appearing in 20% of patients 14 to 90 days after a COVID-19 diagnosis.
One of these studies also found that people who had a mental health diagnosis in the year before COVID were about 65% more like to receive a diagnosis of COVID, even accounting for known risk factors such as age, sex, race, and underlying physical conditions.
A number of articles have been published on this topic, including BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/health-54874010 and Psychiatry Advisor, https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/general-psychiatry/covid-19-patients-with-longer-hospital-stays-may-have-better-psychiatric-outcomes/
The actual studies can be found at The Lancet – Psychiatry, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(20)30462-4/fulltext and also at https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(20)30462-4/fulltext, as well as one in The Lancet – Healthy Longevity, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanhl/article/PIIS2666-7568(20)30020-9/fulltext.
SLOW RECOVERY – LONG HAULERS
Long Haulers: It can take months for some people to recover. Those who struggle with no sign of recovery are called “long-haulers.” Here’s the story of several long-haulers: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/06/covid-19-coronavirus-longterm-symptoms-months/612679/
I can’t shake Covid-19: Warnings from young survivors still suffering: https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/18/health/long-term-effects-young-people-covid-wellness/index.html
COVID-19 Related Hair Loss: Telogen effluvium as a consequence of COVID-19 infection. Believed to be temporary, there are increased reports about patients losing their hair two to three months after being infected with COVID-19. https://consultqd.clevelandclinic.org/covid-19-related-hair-loss/
New-Onset Diabetes in Covid-19. There is a bidirectional relationship between Covid-19 and diabetes. On the one hand, diabetes is associated with an increased risk of severe Covid-19. On the other hand, new-onset diabetes and severe metabolic complications of preexisting diabetes, including diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolarity for which exceptionally high doses of insulin are warranted, have been observed in patients with Covid-19. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2018688
Can COVID-19 Cause Diabetes? Recent research suggests a COVID-19 infection may cause the sudden onset of insulin-dependent diabetes with significant insulin resistance, even in previously healthy young adults, who were asymptomatic. There’s been an uptick in autoimmune diabetes since the pandemic started. Sanjoy Dutta, vice president of research for JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), said, “I don’t think this is type 1 or type 2 diabetes. I think it should be called new onset or sudden onset insulin-dependent diabetes.” https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200903/can-covid-19-cause-diabetes#2
Doctors probe whether COVID-19 is causing diabetes. Many experts are convinced that COVID-19 can trigger the onset of diabetes – even in some adults and children who do not have the traditional risk factors. “We have more questions than answers right now,” said Dr. Robert Eckel, president of medicine and science at the American Diabetes Association. “We could be dealing with an entirely new form of diabetes.” Researchers at Imperial College in London and several hospitals there found that cases of type 1 diabetes among children nearly doubled to 30 during late March to early June – as the pandemic ragedIn the United States, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles said the percentage of newly diagnosed type 2 patients who arrived in diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal buildup of acid in the blood, has nearly doubled for March through August compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019. https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-diabetes-insight/doctors-probe-whether-covid-19-is-causing-diabetes-idINKBN2741D6