Not a ‘Simple Disease': What Research Tells Us About COVID-19's Long-Term Effects

"Imaging tests taken months after recovery from COVID-19 have shown lasting damage to the heart muscle, even in people who appear to have only mild symptoms," said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser.

Staff direct drivers at a coronavirus testing site.

COVID-19 has been linked to a host of potential long-term health effects, according to Los Angeles County's chief medical officer who says people shouldn't be fooled into thinking COVID-19 is a simple disease.

"Any and all notions that COVID-19 is a relatively simple disease in which a small percentage of persons suffer severe consequences and the rest quickly recover must be dismissed," Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser told reporters during an online media briefing Thursday. "This simply is not the case. What we are seeing is that this is an infection that affects health in many ways, including what appear to be many long-term health consequences."

How Coronavirus Has Grown in Each State — in 1 Chart

This chart shows the cumulative number of cases per state by number of days since the 50th case.

Source: The COVID Tracking Project
Credit: Amy O’Kruk/NBC

Gunzenhauser walked through a litany of health issues that have been linked to the coronavirus while noting that studies are continuing and experts are still learning about how the virus can impact a variety of bodily functions.

"What we do know already is that COVID-19 can have a wide range of effects on various body systems and that some of these health consequences can linger at least for months," he said. "For example, you all know that the primary known feature of COVID-19 is that it can cause a pneumonia that can be serious. The type of pneumonia often associated with COVID-19 can cause longstanding damage to the tiny air sacks in the lungs … Resulting scar tissue can lead in some individuals to long-term breathing problems, and we're really just beginning to learn more about this."

He said the virus has also been linked to problems in the circulatory system, including blood clots that can potentially lead to a stroke and impact organs such as the lungs, liver and kidneys. It can also affect neurological systems and cause heart conditions, including inflammation and damage to "the heart muscle itself," and inflammation of the covering around the heart.

Coronavirus Deaths in Your City and State — and Across the US

These charts use daily coronavirus death data from Johns Hopkins University to show the seven-day moving average of deaths at the city, state and country level.

The impact of coronavirus varies enormously in the United States from one place to another.

Source: Johns Hopkins University.
Credit: Visuals by Amy O’Kruk/NBC, data analysis by Ron Campbell/NBC

"Imaging tests taken months after recovery from COVID-19 have shown lasting damage to the heart muscle, even in people who appear to have only mild symptoms," Gunzenhauser said. "So we don't really understand the long-term implications of these findings on these image studies, but it is possible these could result in increased risk of heart failure or other heart complications in the future."

Gunzenhauser also said the suggestion that people who contract COVID-19 and recover will forever be immune to it is unproven.

"This is not like other viral diseases where you have a short-term effect, a small group may be severely affected and the vast majority of others are good to go," he said. "That's not the case. That's not what we're seeing with COVID."

He said the virus is similar to SARS, which arose in 2003, and people who survived that malady later developed chronic fatigue syndrome.

"That's why we continue to deliver the very simple message that it's everyone's personal responsibility to use the tools that we have available to us to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to prevent all of the harmful and severe consequences that this virus can cause, including the ones that can occur over a long period of years," Gunzenhauser said.

His warnings came on a day that saw another upward spike in daily coronavirus case numbers in the county. The Department of Public Health reported 1,745 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest single-day number since late August that did not involve a backlog in testing results.

Health officials said this week that the county's average daily number
of new cases has been on the rise all month, going from an average of about 940 per day in early October to nearly 1,200 in recent days.

That increase is sinking the county further into the mud of the most restrictive "purple" tier in the state's coronavirus economic-reopening matrix. Until the daily case numbers drop to a steady average of about 700 per day, the county will be unable to substantially lift business restrictions or allow school campuses to reopen.

The new cases reported by the county, along with 37 announced by Long Beach health officials and 18 by Pasadena, lifted the countywide cumulative total since the start of the pandemic to 305,125.

Los Angeles County also announced another 19 coronavirus-related deaths, lifting the death toll to 7,044.

There were 750 people hospitalized as of Thursday, down slightly from 755 on Wednesday.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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