COVID aftereffects appearing
Because COVID-19 is a new virus, long-term effects of infection are largely a mystery.
“Part of the problem with calling what is long term and what isn’t is that information is kind of wishy-washy,” county health consultant Don Hodson said. “Nobody’s pinned down a good definition. Some doctors are saying any conditions a month after COVID, like chronic fatigue or being out of breath, are long-term, but that happens with quite a few viruses.”
One of the most common conditions seen post-COVID is a loss of taste and smell.
COVID can damage and kill cells in the nose and mouth that transfer signals about tastes and smells to the brain. If enough cells are destroyed, people are left with reduced, warped, or complete loss of taste and smell long after having COVID.
“If you don’t get your smell and taste back within three or four months, you’re never going to get it back at all,” Hodson said. “This is the first virus that we’ve really seen that can do permanent damage.”
Because COVID-19 is a respiratory infection, another common issue is lingering respiratory problems.
“If they get bad enough that they need to be in the hospital, on oxygen, with lung damage — that’s a small percentage of people — then we’re at a point now when we can say that’s permanent and they’ll never fully recover,” Hodson said.
While it hasn’t been seen as much, a lack of oxygen caused by COVID infection can give people delayed responses or trouble speaking later. Physical and speech therapists at St. Luke Hospital in Marion have said they’ve seen people with these issues post-COVID.
While COVID does not “reset” the immune system like some thought at the start of the pandemic, it does make people more susceptible to infection from other diseases.
“All viruses put you under stress and mess with your overall immunity for a while,” Hodson said. “That’s why, when people get over stuff with COVID, they might end up getting shingles or some other virus a month or two after COVID — because their body is stressed out. It’s not that it has some devastating effect on the immune system. It just stresses it out.”
The likelihood of more aftereffects from COVID is fairly low. Hodson doubted any more would be found.
“That being said, look at post-polio syndrome — people who had polio as kids who have paralysis in their old age,” he said. “There’s no way to predict that.”