Doctors are becoming more concerned about emerging evidence that some individuals who contracted and survived Covid-19 have shown signs of organ inflammation weeks to months after infection.
Dr. Thomas Russo, infectious disease expert at UB Jacobs School of Medicine, said even minimally or asymptomatic individuals are showing these results, which “raises the concern for possible long-term effects on the function of various organs, including the heart.”
As a result, Russo stresses that people should follow the guidelines of social distancing, frequently washing hands and wearing a mask to avoid getting this disease.
Monday night, the Buffalo Bills announced that tight end Tommy Sweeney is out for the season after doctors discovered inflammation of his heart, which is linked to Covid-19. He is the first NFL player to be diagnosed with the condition.
“It’s something we still are in the process of trying to sort out,” said Russo, who has no connection to Sweeney’s medical situation.
“And the final answer unfortunately is going to take years and perhaps decades.”
Dr. Vishal Parikh, a cardiologist expert at Rochester Regional Health, agrees that there is still a lot the medical community does not know, but “the severe side effects of this coronavirus can be very significant.”
Russo said medical professionals know that even if someone survives the novel coronavirus with severe, moderate, even mild symptoms, medical issues can persist for weeks, if not months after the initial infection.
Symptoms such as fatigue, fevers, shortness of breath and memory issues have all been documented, he said.
In fact, he said some studies show 10% to 20% of infected people fall into this category.
“Likewise, even if you are asymptomatic there has been one study that came out of Germany that showed, and I think it was on average about a little over two months, 70 days out, where they did special scans of their hearts,” he said.
“Those individuals had evidence of inflammation and of course if you have inflammation in any organ the potential exists for then damage to that tissue and long-term consequences.”
The early data should serve as a wake-up call to those who are not adhering to the guidelines, doctors said.
“No one’s invincible no matter how young you are,” Parikh said.
“I’ve seen patients in the ICU who are younger than myself and developed severe consequences from the virus.”
A Journal of the American Medical Association report cited a study in Italy that assessed 143 patients discharged from the hospital and only 18 patients were completely free of Covid-19 symptoms after a mean of 60 days after the initial infection.
Russo said the novel coronavirus isn’t just a disease that affects your respiratory tract and lungs, but it can also infect the gastrointestinal tract, heart, kidneys, the brain and a variety of endocrine glands.
“Even people that are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic could have this sort of low-grade under the radar cryptic inflammation that’s ongoing in some organs,” Russo said.
“There may not be any immediate or intermediate consequences of this, however, we may find – and I think they keyword here is may here – that years from now either alone or maybe combined with other insults to that organ, these organs might fail prematurely.”
Sounds frightening? That’s because it is, Russo said. The potential for long-term consequences of a Covid-19 infections is information that’s “not getting out there enough,” he said.
“But if these long-term consequences become a reality, and I hope they do not just to be clear about this, it would be a terrible situation,” Russo said.
“What seemed like a situation that was low risk may turn out to be a life changing event down the line.”