Six lingering after-effects that will devastate your old age
While research into the longer-term effects of COVID-19 is in its infancy, we know that they include fatigue, brain fog, palpitations, mood swings, kidney damage, blood clots, cognitive decline, and increased chronic inflammation. While these symptoms can severely affect older adults, they are recorded in all age groups, even the 18 to 35s.
And they may last forever.
The horror stories from COVID-19 survivors of their lingering impairment and suffering are only just coming to light.
In July, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report which found nearly a third hadn't returned to their usual state of health two to three weeks after testing positive for COVID-19.
"In contrast, over 90 per cent of outpatients with influenza recover within approximately two weeks of having a positive test result," the report's authors note.
Of this we can be sure - the long-term effects of COVID-19 on our health are pervasive and can be devastating. They are nothing like the rare damage caused by influenza.
After the COVID battle comes the public health war
British infectious disease doctor Paul Garner has been an outspoken voice on the lingering effects of COVID-19, describing symptoms he was still experiencing 14 weeks after catching the disease.
"I am unable to be out of bed for more than three hours at a stretch, my arms and legs are permanently fizzing as if injected with Szechuan peppercorns, I have ringing in the ears, intermittent brain fog, palpitations, and dramatic mood swings," he wrote in the British Medical Journal's offshoot BMJ Opinion.
After we have succeeded in the battles against the spread of the virus, public health attention will turn towards the impact of these lasting disabilities. That's the upcoming war.
The aftereffects are, of course, deeply personal and will ruin people's lives as they knew them. That's the micro effect. The macro effects will be a massive drain on public health budgets and a drain on global economies for a long time to come.
As of 16 October, 2020 40m people have been infected. Many will suffer long-term disabilities, and because many will have to work to eat, they will always be in a cycle of relapse, recurrence and aggregation of their underlying conditions.
By the time a universal vaccine is administered, potentially 100m people could have been infected. And COVID-19 will be followed by COVID-21,22,23 and more.
Long term-effects of COVID-19, we should be scared
Pigeonholing COVID-19 in the same class as influenza is a crime against those 40m human beings, a crime against humanity.
We should be aware of what it can do to us, and be scared into taking whatever action is needed to protect ourselves and to protect others from ourselves.
Here are some of the things we know about COVID-19's long-term effects.
#1 Chronic Fatigue
Many people who have recovered from SARS have gone on to develop chronic fatigue syndrome, a complex disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that worsens with physical or mental activity but doesn't improve with rest. The same may be true for people who have had COVID-19.
Fatigue is usually a helpful response to infections as it means that the body is directing all its energy to defeat the invasion.
However, once the infection is eliminated, the fatigue typically dissipates. Researchers are trying to understand why this recovery is impaired after COVID-19 infection.
#2 Lung and Heart Damage
Lung damage is now well recorded. In the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, clinical radiologist Ali Gholamrezanez had begun to notice that some people who had cleared their COVID-19 infection still had distinct signs of lung damage. "Unfortunately, sometimes the scar never goes away," he says.
COVID-19 infection can also cause fibrosis - scarred, stiff tissue that makes it difficult for the lungs to do their job of oxygenating the blood.
What is not know is how much a damaged heart contributes to the lung damage. Linda Gallo is researching how coronavirus affects the heart, especially in people with diabetes, and its connection with lung damage.
#3 Kidney Damage
Kidney damage also is becoming a commonly reported issue among Covid-19 patients.
Alan Kliger, a nephrologist at the Yale School of Medicine, said early data showed 14% to 30% of ICU Covid-19 patients in New York and Wuhan, China, lost kidney function and later required dialysis. Similarly, a study published recently in the journal Kidney International found that nine of 26 people who died of Covid-19 in Wuhan had acute kidney injuries, and seven had units of the new coronavirus in their kidneys.
The findings suggest it's "very possible that the virus attaches to the kidney cells and attacks them," according to Kliger.
#4 General Brain Damage
Even mild inflammation, including chronic stress, are now recognized as risk factors for dementia and cognitive decline during aging. A COVID-19 infection introduces a storm of inflammation which appears to result in long-lasting changes in neuronal function in memory-related brain regions and memory impairments.
This occurs because the COVID-19 inflammation storm causes permanent damage to the neuronal connections or neurons themselves and also via more subtle changes in how neurons function. Not only that, but an excessive level of inflammation triggers the body to throw everything at the attacker, which can destroy our healthy cells including brain cells and nerves.
This type of damage is permanent. This is possibly why British infectious disease doctor Paul Garner reported "my arms and legs are permanently fizzing as if injected with Szechuan peppercorns" weeks after recovering from an infection. That pain is typically a sign of peripheral nerve damage - as in Type 2 diabetics (I know, I'm one).
Nature reported that some of the worst-affected patients with brain illness resulting from COVID-19 had only mild respiratory symptoms. The brain being hit was their main disease—unfortunately, a lasting one.
#5 Memory Loss and Dementia
Long-lasting changes in the brain after COVID-19 are closely linked to increased risk for age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. This is the result of the inflammation load triggered by COVID-19.
Although medical researchers are not clear on the exact mechanism, there are parallels with other illnesses and stress factors. For example, many patients who recover from a heart attack or bypass surgery report lasting cognitive deficits that become exaggerated during aging.
Sepsis is another illness with similar cognitive complications – multi-organ dysfunction triggered by inflammation. The inflammation causes impairments of memory and changes in neuronal function that result in age-related cognitive decline.
Inflammation can escalate to a severe form of brain illness called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, in which both the brain and spinal cord become inflamed, and neurons lose their myelin coatings leading to symptoms resembling those of multiple sclerosis.
This raises an important question: will COVID-19 be associated with a large epidemic of brain illness, in the same manner that the 1918 influenza pandemic was linked (admittedly somewhat uncertainly) to the epidemic of encephalitis lethargica (sleeping sickness) that took hold until the 1930s? It is too early to tell if we will see a similar outbreak associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, though early reports of encephalitis in COVID-19 have shown features similar to those in encephalitis lethargica. - The Conversation
If you can't afford 14 doctors and the Walter Reed then follow the guidelines
Much is still unknown about how COVID-19 will affect people over time. But what we do know is that it WILL affect people for a long time after their infection.
Most people who have COVID-19 recover quickly. But the potentially long-lasting problems from COVID-19 make it even super-important to reduce the spread of the disease.
We know what to do. There's no more research needed to know that masks work, social distancing work, and lockdowns work to control outbreaks.
Just do it.
Or if you find that too much an imposition on your "rights" then have a chat to someone living with chronic fatigue, brain fog, and dying nerves which wake them up in the night. Is that what you want for your children, parents, grandparents and those of your neighbours and friends?
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Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building fitness training which lowers my age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter