Joseph R. Anticaglia, MD
Medical Advisory Board
Among the several hundred coronaviruses, seven cause human disease. Four of them cause mild symptoms such as the common cold. However, three of them have emerged in this century and globally to bring about severe illness and deaths.
The lethal coronaviruses are usually found in and remain isolated in pigs, bats, civet cats or camels. Occasionally, they “spillover over,” jump to humans and give rise to severe disease. Over the past 20 years, the deadly coronaviruses have infected humans that have resulted in the loss of thousands of lives.
- Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV1). came out in November, 2002 and disappeared by 2004.
- Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) emerged in September. 2012 and continues to cause sporadic and localized outbreaks.
- SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus 2019 or COVID-19 was identified in December, 2019. The World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic in March, 2020 and is currently rampaging around the globe.
COVID-19 is an evolving medical story. Remarkably, two weeks after the discovery of COVID-19, scientist determined how the virus entered the cell. And within a few months, Phase 1 clinical trials had begun evaluating a possible treatment for this disease — Remdesivir.
Yet, the final chapters of this puzzling virus have not been written. One aspect of the COVID mystery deals with the long term effects it has on patients who have recovered from coronavirus. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the person experienced a mild or severe form of the disease. In many instances, this virus lingers after the acute phase is over.
In a previous article, I talked about how COVID-19 ravaged Nick Cordero’s body. It stampeded from one organ to another. Might his ordeal serve as a signpost to the long term effects the virus have had on people who have recovered from coronavirus?
The virus attacked Mr. Cordero’s lungs making it difficult to breathe. He required a pacemaker because of the damage done to his heart. He became disoriented. Blood clots broke loose causing a stroke. Other clots formed in his leg that needed to be amputated.
And the story gets worse; he suffered kidney failure and liver dysfunction before he finally succumbed to the disease. Doctors soon came to realize that this virus is not just about, lung infections, cough and fever. Few realized what Mr. Cordero experienced, namely, the virus’ attack on multiple organs systems would plague many who have recovered from COVID-19.
In January of this year, the Lancet reported in its medical journal the findings of Chinese researchers about the long term effects of SARS-CoV-2. They reported that 76% of COVID-19 patients, six months after being treated for the acute phase of the disease, continued to experience at least one symptom as a result of this virus
Long-Term COVID Symptoms
Fatigue is an enduring symptom for many individuals who have recovered from the acute phase of COVID-19. Some go through incapacitating exhaustion making it difficult to work for a few hours or even get out of bed. Those who struggle with the lasting effects of coronavirus have received support on social media from their fellow “Long COVID — Long-haulers.”
Post COVID-19 patients complain of “brain-fog.” They experience difficulty concentrating, memory lapses and trouble stringing sentences together. Others complain of headaches and dizziness and it can cause seizures. Having experience the physical effects of the illness, people’s emotions swing from anxiety to depression.
COVID-19 causes inflammation of the lungs which can cause a blockage of the lung’s air sacs (alveoli) leading to shortness of breath. SOB can persist after you’ve recovered from the disease along with a dry cough and pain when breathing. The concern is that chronic infection will compromise the lung’s ability to transfer oxygen into the blood and to remove carbon dioxide from it.
COVID-19 can affect the heart and the vascular system. A Frankfurt, Germany study revealed a high rate of complications in recovered covid-19 patients. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the study demonstrated cardiac involvement in 78% of patients. A majority of patients had ongoing heart inflammation which over time put them a t risk for heart beat irregularities—arrhythmias and cardiac failure.
Inflammation is a risk factor for blood vessels problems. The virus can inflame the linings of blood vessels leading to the formation of blood clots. The blood clots can be localized to the leg cutting off circulation necessitating its amputation. The clots can break free travelling to the lungs causing a pulmonary embolus, to the heart causing a heart attack or to the brain resulting in a stroke.
There are other symptoms connected to COVID including, sleep disorder, loss of taste and smell, intermittent fever and chills, headache, depression. as well as muscle and joint aches and pain. There’s much we don’t understand about this coronavirus and it’s too early to write the last word about the long term effects of this disease. But Nick Cordero gave us a prologue to the miserable, unfinished story afflicting long haulers.
- Joseph R. Anticaglia, MD; The Tribulations of Nick Cordero COVID-19 is Not Just a Number; Doctor’s Column HC Smart, 2020
- Monica Cortinovis et al; Long-term follow-up of recovered patients with COVID-19; The Lancet, January 8, 2021
- Valentina Puntmann, et al; Outcomes of Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Patients Recently Recovered From Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19; Online JAMA, July 27, 2020
- Harvey Moldofsky1 & John Patcai; Chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, depression and disordered sleep in chronic post-SARS syndrome; a case-controlled study; BMC Neurology, March 24, .2011
- Michael Marshall; The lasting misery of coronavirus long-haulers; Nature, September 14, 2020
- CDC; Symptom Duration and Risk Factors for Delayed Return to Usual Health Among Outpatients with COVID-19 in a Multistate Health Care Systems Network — United States, March—June 2020; July 24, 2020
This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.