A recent study examining the health records of 140,000 U.S. veterans suggests that risks of health issues such as diabetes, fatigue, or blood clots may persist for at least two years after a COVID-19 infection. 

As learned in AP Biology, the fundamental method in which SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the cells involves the interaction between its spike protein (S-protein) and the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor present on the surface of human cells. Upon initial contact, the S-protein of the virus binds to the ACE2 receptor. This binding triggers a series of events that hijacks the host cell’s machinery to release viral RNA and replicate itself, finally generating new viral components. COVID-19 can also trigger an excessive immune response known as a cytokine storm, which might lead to T cell obliteration.

The study compared veterans who had been infected with the virus to nearly 6 million others who did not contract COVID-19, analyzing new diagnoses, lab results, and prescription records. The research identified health problems that emerged from a month after individuals contracted the virus.

The research team discovered that patients hospitalized during their initial COVID-19 cases had a higher likelihood of facing subsequent health problems. But those with milder initial infections showed a higher risk for approximately one-third of the medical issues analyzed compared to those who didn’t test positive for the virus. This group, comprising mostly milder COVID-19 cases, could potentially strain the healthcare system more, according to Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at the Veterans Affairs Saint Louis Health Care System.

The most prevalent issues observed align with commonly known long COVID symptoms found in other studies. These include fatigue, memory problems, loss of smell, blood clots, metabolic issues, and gastrointestinal problems. Furthermore, patients initially hospitalized were approximately 1.88 times more likely to experience acute gastritis (stomach inflammation) two years after infection compared to those without a COVID-19 record, while non-hospitalized patients had a risk factor of 1.44 times.

Finally, Al-Aly and colleagues determined that among every 1,000 individuals infected with the virus, there was a collective loss of 150 years of healthy life due to persistent symptoms in these patients. This stark revelation underscores the severe impact of long COVID, highlighting its destructiveness, as noted by McCorkell. Other studies, such as the U.S. Census’ Household Pulse Survey, have similarly noted how COVID disrupts the day-to-day lives of many patients.

Ultimately, with recent increases in COVID-19 transmissions, I strongly advocate for maintaining our vigilance and adhering to health guidelines, such as practicing good hand hygiene, and staying updated on vaccination recommendations. As a fellow germaphobe myself, I will certainly take heed of these practices. These measures remain crucial in curbing the spread of the virus and safeguarding both individual and community health. As the article mentions, even a mild COVID-19 infection could potentially lead to health issues in the months or years following the initial illness.

Let’s all do our part to keep our communities safe and healthy!

SARS-CoV-2 without background

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