One Sure Sign You've Already Had Coronavirus, Says Dr. Fauci
The idea that COVID-19 is just a flu that passes in time was never true, we now know. So-called "long-haulers" are suffering effects of the disease months later, with no cure in sight.
"If you look anecdotally there is no question that there are a considerable number of individuals who have a post-viral syndrome that really in many respects can incapacitate them for weeks and weeks following so-called recovery and clearing of the virus," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, at the International AIDS Society COVID-19 press conference last week. "You can see people who've recovered who really do not get back to normal that they have things that are highly suggestive of myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome. Brain fog, fatigue, and difficulty in concentrating so this is something we really need to seriously look at because it very well might be a post-viral syndrome associated with COVID-19." Here are 10 other symptoms that could last forever.
Multiple Organ System Complications
When it comes to COVID-19, the initial infection may be only half the battle. "There are many complications that affect patients not only medically but also functionally and mentally after their acute phase of COVID-19," Soo Kim, MD, Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explains to Eat This Not That! Health. "Some will recover quickly with few long-term complications, while others will follow a slower trajectory, requiring ongoing support."
According to Dr. Kim, many patients who recover from COVID-19 may experience a myriad of complications that involves multiple organ systems. "Based on the emerging literature and early clinical observations, it is shown to affect respiratory, renal, neurological and cardiovascular systems," she points out.
Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is one of the initial symptoms of coronavirus, but can also linger for months after due to a variety of factors. "Shortness of breath can be due to pulmonary deconditioning, fibrosis or pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lung)," Dr. Kim maintains.
Blood clots (aka hypercoagulation) can occur as a result of a COVID-19 infection, and can eventually lead to heart problems. "Many patients suffer from arterial thrombosis (blood clot in the arteries), which, in turn, causes heart dysfunctions," Dr. Kim says. "We also see many patients getting new-onset arrhythmia."
Acute Kidney Dysfunction
Even an individual with no underlying kidney problems may suffer acute kidney injury as a result of the virus—to the point that they may need dialysis, maintains Dr. Kim. Johns Hopkins Medicine recently published an article citing early reports that up to 30% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in China and New York developed moderate or severe kidney injury. How coronavirus damages the kidneys isn't exactly clear.
Dr. Kim reveals that patients who recover from a respiratory illness can have reactive airway disease, though it is typically temporary. "I see many of our patients suffer from prolonged cough, but most of them recover by four weeks," she says.
Difficult Swallowing or Speaking
Prolonged intubation can result in a few long-term health implications. "Dysphonia (difficulty speaking) is primarily due to edema, scarring or vocal cord injury," Dr. Kim explains. "Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) is also common in patients who have a stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) and requires diet modification." Both conditions can be treated by speech and language pathologists.
Muscle weakness is one of the most common complications that physicians observe after discharge, according to Dr. Kim. "It can be due to many different reasons: physical deconditioning, chronic illness-induced myopathy or reduced exercise tolerance," she explains. "If there is any focal weakness in one limb, the patient should be evaluated by a neuromuscular specialist."
Nerve damage due to coronavirus can have a lasting effect on your health. "Neurological presentations include seizures, altered consciousness and stroke," says Dr. Kim. "We often see arm weakness due to brachial plexus injury (nerve injury) or difficulty lifting feet, possibly secondary to positioning (prone position) or critical illness neuropathy."
Mental Health Complications
Over 50% of post-ICU patients experience mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, Dr. Kim maintains. "Isolation from their relatives may exacerbate the symptoms. In many cases, the patients continue to isolate themselves even after recovery, due either to fear of reinfection or infecting their family members."
Late cognitive deficits—including trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect everyday life — may be common after a coronavirus infection. "They are multifactorial in general and affect multiple cognitive domains such as memory and judgment," Dr. Kim explains. "At times, the patients don't realize it until they return to work."
Pay Attention to Your Health, Even After You Have "Recovered" From Coronavirus
Make sure to keep your physician in the loop if you think you have any lingering symptoms of COVID-19. Dr. Kim stresses the importance of having a standardized, multi-disciplinary resource to support anticipated patient needs (respiratory, functional, cognitive, psychiatric) and provide convenient and comprehensive ambulatory care. "At Johns Hopkins, we have created a multidisciplinary Post-Acute COVID-19 Team (PACT), which is a collaboration among Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Johns Hopkins Home Care Group to provide ambulatory care within and across the Johns Hopkins Health System to support those who have recovered from COVID-19," she explains.
How to Stay Safe
As for yourself, to stay healthy during these dangerous times, use best practices to keep yourself and others safe. Wash your hands frequently, wear a face mask, avoid crowds, social distance, only run essential errands, monitor your health and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.