Living on Kaua‘i, the impacts of the coronavirus have been more economical than medical.
It it easy to think that all the scary stuff about the health impacts of the disease are exaggerations, that the actual health impacts are minor. If you look at the facts, however, this is not true.
The health impacts of COVID-19 are sometimes death. For those who survive, the battle doesn’t always end with the symptoms. More problematic are the long-term disabilities that are becoming associated with the disease that leave not just the elderly, but some younger, healthy people, with debilitating side-effects for months.
Scientists are just beginning to understand the many health problems caused by COVID-19. According to doctors and infectious-disease experts, some of these may have lingering effects on patients and health systems for years to come.
While further scientific study is needed, evidence already seems clear that COVID-19 patients are more prone to blood clots, a dangerous condition that can lead to heart attacks, strokes and pulmonary embolisms.
There is evidence that overwrought immune systems triggered by the virus can permanently weaken heart muscles. People who have suffered symptoms for weeks, or even months, talk about how they can’t hold a thought or idea, a condition doctors have described as a persistent brain fog. “We see blood clotting, we see kidney damage, we see inflammation of the heart, we see stroke, we see encephalitis (swelling of the brain),” said William Li, MD, president of the Angiogenesis Foundation.
Fear over myocarditis, an infection that can cause acute heart failure and sudden death, reached elevated concern in college football’s decision to cancel its fall season, according to a recent article in Sports Illustrated.
Dr. Matthew Martinez, the medical director of sports cardiology at Atlantic Health System in New Jersey, stated, “Myocarditis is one of many after-effects of COVID-19, but for athletes, it is the most serious.” Left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriquez, projected as the Red Sox No. 1 pitcher this year, developed myocarditis after contracting COVID-19. He will miss the 2020 season.
But not only athletes are affected. Actress Alyssa Milano, months after contracting a mild case of COVID-19, recently reported she is now suffering from lingering effects including heart palpitations, shortness of breath, hair loss and occasional vertigo. Her next step is a chest CT scan, cardiac MRI and blood tests to verify any damage.
Coronavirus can lead to severe neurological complications, including inflammation, psychosis and delirium.
“My worry is that we have millions of people with COVID-19 now,” said Adrian Owen, neuroscientist at Western University in Canada, in an article for Reuters Health &Science in July. “And if in a year’s time we have 10 million recovered people, and these people have cognitive deficits, then that’s going to affect their ability to work and their ability to go about activities of daily living,” he said.
And it affects the lungs. “I don’t know how to say it without being gruesome. It just destroys the lungs,” said Dr. Jon Thogmartin, medical examiner, Pinellas and Pasco County, Florida, in Newsweek in June.
“I want to get the virus and just get it over with,” some people say. Are you sure? People typically recover from seasonal influenza within two weeks. COVID-19 can take months. With COVID-19, on average, you are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized than you are with the flu.
Even if you don’t care about yourself, think about your family and friends. Your grandchildren, your grandparents or elderly friends. Don’t wait until you hear about your good friend or relative dying while gasping for breath to say, as a 40-year-old Texan was heard to say on his deathbed: “I thought it was a hoax, but now I know I was wrong.”
Due to its geographic isolation, Kaua‘i is uniquely poised to contain the virus and keep COVID-19 from exploding on our island. How can we, the people of Kaua‘i, help? We can make decisions based on facts. We can lead by example. Let our friends see that we’re wearing a mask, washing our hands, keeping social distance and avoiding large groups.
“I ola ‘oe, i ola makou nei” means “My life depends on yours, your life depends on mine,” and is a Hawaiian proverb.
Kim Rowley is a member of the Kaua‘i COVID-19 Discussion Group.