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Doctors weigh in on potential long-term effects of COVID-19

Coronavirus

What are the long-term effects of COVID-19? That’s a question that will take time to answer.

“We don’t really know exactly because it’s a new disease,” said Dr. Ralph Garcia-Pacheco, the ICU Director at Kern Medical Center.

Doctors are getting an idea of the effects by comparing COVID to similar lung diseases like COPD.

“The prognosis in the past for other infections has been very good after one year,” Dr. Garcia-Pacheco said. “What we don’t know in the case of COVID, is this recovery is going to be similar, worse, or better?”

While some doctors expect less permanent damage in younger, healthier people, they also foresee long-term harm for people who’ve been in the ICU with COVID.

“They can have cognitive disorder, memory problems, attention deficit, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized muscle fatigue and weakness that can last for a long period of time,” Dr. Garcia-Pacheco said.

“That’s one difference between severe COVID-19,” added Dr. John Balmes, an attending pulmonary physician at San Francisco General Hospital. “There’s this vascular component where people have had strokes and damage to other organs from blood clots.”

For those who already have lung problems, like Valley Fever, getting COVID could have damaged their lungs more. The bad air quality in Kern County also won’t help.

“Given that it’s wildfire season and there’s a big fire near Riverside, the Apple Fire, air pollution can increase the risk for COVID-19, and we suspect that it might also cause problems with people trying to recover from COVID-19,” Dr. Balmes said.

Besides the physical effects and the potential lung damage, doctors also say there also could be mental and emotional trauma from being in the ICU and being isolated.

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