We have all dreaded it, and far too many of us have experienced it. Coughing, shortness of breath, fever. These are all symptoms of the most important health crisis of our time: Covid-19. Fortunately, this will all be over when we find a vaccine. Right?
Unfortunately, there is a growing cause for concern that Covid-19 may have long-term health effects on those who are infected, even long after they are cured. The long-term effects vary wildly. There have been reports of scar tissue forming on the lungs, damage to heart tissue and more vague reports of long-term fatigue, joint pain or chest pain. This is completely discounting the long-term mental health effects Covid-19 will have as well.
While the results are not yet iron-clad, there is enough evidence to give us pause. With SARS and Mers, Covid-19’s two predecessors and genetic ‘cousins,’ studies that conducted follow-ups with survivors of these pandemics have also found fatigue, depression and muscle pain even months after patients recovered from their initial infection. Covid-19 seems to be no different with preliminary reports suggesting similar outcomes.
Why then is this the case? Isn’t Covid-19 a purely respiratory virus? If so, then shouldn’t the damage be contained to the respiratory tract? Unfortunately, it seems that Covid-19 like SARS and MERS is a full-body infection. Older studies of SARS showed that the mechanism that SARS used to enter the body’s system was through the ACE2 receptor pathway. This means that wherever in the body there are ACE2 receptors, SARS could potentially enter.
Unfortunately for us, Covid-19 is able to abuse this same receptor, and doubly damning seems to be the fact that the ACE2 receptor is found throughout the body. It is found in the gastrointestinal tract, the capillaries of the body and the heart, among other places. This has led to increased formation of blood clots, heart attacks, and in very few extreme cases, a need for surgical removal of the gut. These may also be long-term issues that will plague Covid-19 victims for the remainder of their lives.
This is why containment is still so important, even during this late stage in this pandemic. Every person who is infected with the virus may become a person with a chronic heart, lung or gastrointestinal issue for decades to come.