January 2022

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January 24, 2022

Science Cast

Bridging the gap between Scientists and the Public


3 min read
Photo courtesy Pulitzer center

“I contracted the virus 2 months ago and still can’t smell or taste anything. The little life pleasures that I once took for granted are now gone. Life just doesn’t feel great when you can no longer make as vivid memories as you once could. Be safe out there. That night out is not worth it!”

“I had a collapsed lung and all the moderate-severe issues for 3 months. I’ve had fibro and autoimmune disorders and asthma. I basically still feel like I’ve had a cold for 5 months after covid and can barely smell or taste…. You may not die but it’ll still harm you for a long time.”

The above statements come from two different COVID 19 survivors who commented on a documentary done on the long-term damage of Coronavirus. Some people can experience long-term symptoms of the virus. These patients have been named “long haulers” and only recover in theory from the virus.

While short-term clinical manifestations of COVID 19 are well characterized, less has been done to establish long-term post-COVID 19 complications. A study published in Nature recently showed that people who had recovered from Corona Virus exhibited a higher risk of death and also faced many health threats. The researchers reported that patients who had recovered from the virus had high chances of developing complications in the respiratory system and the nervous system. The patients also exhibited Mental health problems, Metabolic disorders, heart problems, digestive disorders, kidney diseases, blood clots, malaise, fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, diabetes, and anemia. This cohort study consisted of 73,435 participants who had survived COVID 19 in the first 30 days after diagnosis but were not hospitalized. The control group had over 4 million people who did not have COVID 19 and were never hospitalized. The group that had survived the Coronavirus, had a 59% higher risk of death 6 months post-infection compared to the non-infected control population.

A second study conducted by CDC and Kaiser Permanente Georgia (KPGA) also identified long-term clinical characteristics of COVD 19 days after diagnosis. In the study that followed 3171 non hospitalized adult Corona Virus patients, there was a 69% increase in outpatient visits 28 to 180 days post-infection. Adults aged 65 years and above had significantly higher outpatient visits than those aged 18 to 49 years. The new diagnoses 28 to 180 days post-infection included cough, shortness of breath, chest or throat pain, and fatigue which are likely symptoms of ongoing COVID 19. As much as the frequency of those visits was reported to decrease after 60 days, some persisted beyond 120 days in some patients.

The lasting COVID 19 symptoms are varied and fluctuate around the body. The cause of these lingering symptoms is still unclear but the obvious possibility is that they may be the consequence of organ damage caused by the coronavirus or immune imbalance triggered by infection from the virus. Organs that may be affected by COVID 19 include the heart, lungs, and brain. Heart imaging tests taken on people who have recovered from the virus have revealed lasting heart muscle damages even to those who only had mild symptoms. This increases the risk of heart failure even after recovery. COVID 19 associated pneumonia can cause long-standing damage to the lungs resulting in breathing problems months after a negative diagnosis. COVID-19 can cause strokes, seizures, and Guillain-Barre syndrome a condition that causes temporary paralysis and increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. 

As more studies are being done on long COVID effects, experts continue drawing a parallel from similar diseases to ease dealing with symptoms in long-haulers. These complications pose a potential public health crisis in the near future. Therefore, there is a need to develop plans to take care of all patients recovering from coronavirus and enable them resume their normal lives.

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