Even a Mild COVID Case Can Cause Serious Permanent Illness

As nearly a dozen states are either contemplating or have decided to lift mask mandates, it’s time to consider something that has gotten little consideration in the press these past two years.

As the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic nears, focus is naturally on the number of infections, deaths, and hospitalizations, especially as scientists closely watch the omicron “ close cousin” subvariant, BA.2.

With more than 200 identified symptoms“long COVID “ is the term referring to those who have had COVID but develop sometimes mysterious and lingering symptoms, typically difficulty breathing, that threaten their livelihoods and overall wellbeing.

A new study now shows that even a mild case of COVID can increase someone’s risk of cardiovascular problems for at least a year after diagnosis, even for those under age 65 without other comorbidities like obesity or diabetes.

Washington University study co-author, Ziyad Al-Aly, and colleagues based their findings on an extensive United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) database that compared over 150,000 veterans who survived COVID-19 for at least 30 days after contracting it with a more than five million patients who accessed the VA medical system during the pandemic and a comparably sized group that used the system three years before the pandemic began.

Those who reported recovering were 52 percent more likely to suffer strokes than the control group.

Heart failure risk increased 72 percent.

As reported in the journal Nature:

“Hospitalization increased the likelihood of future cardiovascular complications, but even people who avoided hospitalization were at higher risk for many conditions.” 

Northwestern University cardiologist Hossein Ardehali warned:

“I am actually surprised by these findings that cardiovascular complications of COVID can last so long. It is important that those who are not vaccinated get their vaccine immediately.”

He and Al-Aly concur, “We collectively dropped the ball on COVID. And I feel we’re about to drop the ball on long COVID.”

But cardiovascular issues are not the only effects.

A study published last March in the Annuls of Clinical and Translational Neurology discusses neurologic symptoms and cognitive dysfunction in non-hospitalized COVID patients.

Findings from a pilot study involving 36 patients show COVID may be responsible for damage to patients’ lungs so subtle it evades standard tests.

Oxford university hospital consultant and co-author of a pilot study, Dr. Emily Fraser explained:

“It is the first study to demonstrate lung abnormalities in [people with long Covid] who are breathless and where other investigations are unremarkable. It does suggest the virus is causing some kind of persistent abnormality within the microstructure of the lungs or in the pulmonary vasculature.”

Oxford university hospital radiologist and the study’s chief investigator, Fergus Gleeson, warned:

“These patients have never been in hospital and did not have an acute severe illness when they had their Covid-19 infection. Some of them have been experiencing their symptoms for a year after contracting Covid-19.”

Clinical senior lecturer at King’s College London, Claire Steves, added:

“They suggest that the efficiency of the lung in doing what it is meant to do-exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen-may be compromised, even though the structure of the lung appears normal. However, we really need to await the completion of the study to know whether these early findings are robust, and if so, how much they explain, and what the ramifications are in terms of potential treatments.”

Two recent scientific papers conclude a connection between COVID-19 and men’s inability to maintain erections.

Authors of the journal study “Mask up to keep it up” report COVID-19 damages the cardiovascular system, which may result in erectile issues linked to blood vessel diseases.

The study also reports both erectile dysfunction and COVID-19 tend to be more severe and prevalent in men suffering from diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.

Another study in the World Journal of Men’s Health reveals COVID can linger in penile tissue long after male COVID sufferers recover from its worst symptoms.

“Researchers from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine say that their study found men who previously did not suffer from erectile dysfunction but developed it severely after their COVID-19 infection.”

Ranjith Ramasamy, M.D., associate professor and director of the Miller School’s Reproductive Urology Program, and study author explained:

“This suggests that men who develop COVID-19 infection should be aware that erectile dysfunction could be an adverse effect of the virus, and they should go to a physician if they develop ED symptoms.”

A tell-tale symptom of symptomatic COVID, albeit one that does not afflict all who contract it, is loss of taste and/or smell, which can be permanent.

A related condition many long COVID sufferers experience is parosmia, a distorted sense that renders smells “unpleasant or even disgusting.”

Many with this symptom report experiencing it weeks or months after they thought they had recovered.

Last week, scientists at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute published a study finding almost half of those infected studied in the first wave experienced parosmia.

Chrissi Kelly, founder of AbScent, United Kingdom-based support group for people with taste and smell disorders, explained:

“Our olfactory sense is there to alert us to potential danger, and people with parosmia search for words like sewage, burning, electrics to describe it. When you question them more closely, they use those words to signify the greatest amount of disgust. But the impact goes much deeper. Often people don’t believe them, employers don’t believe them. But think about how important smell is to communicate.”

Four months after contracting COVID, Anne-Héloise Dautel stopped eating because of how repulsed she was from just about anything around her.

“I just wanted to vomit,” she said“I was gagging at everything around me. I couldn’t even stand my own smell. I was showering five times a day.”

By the time she went to the hospital, she was down to 101 lbs.

In a recent piece in The Washington Post, Nona Uppal explained:

“I caught the coronavirus in April 2021, during India’s deadly second wave, which drove a worldwide surge in cases. My infection, although technically “mild,” left me bedridden with a high fever and headaches throughout the 10-day isolation period. As my quarantine ended, I was relieved that the worst was behind me — or so I thought. “A month into recovery, I started noticing a rude cacophony of pungent smells that were mildly rotten, then sometimes metallic after they entered my nose. Desperate for answers, my investigations concluded that everything stank — but onions and garlic were the primary culprits.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci (by now a household name that needs no introduction) confirmed long COVID can develop “no matter what virus variant occurs.”

Two years into the pandemic, what we still don’t know about COVID-19 can probably fill volumes and likely will.

Even those who “recover” are at risk of developing related health anomalies in the future.

This means we are producing an entire society of new pre-existing conditions, and the country leading the most COVID infection is none other than the United States, the only major nation in the world without a national healthcare system.

And that system, according to The Commonwealth Fund, ranks dead last compared to 11 other wealthy countries in four out of five areas pertaining to access to care, process, administrative efficiency, equity and outcomes.

Even after COVID becomes endemic, it is going to be a major part of life.

Who knows what will come after it.

Image credit: Callysto

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.