I-Team: Doctor: Half of COVID-19 patients experiencing long-term symptoms

About half of the people who have contracted COVID-19 suffer long-term symptoms, Miami Valley Hospital Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Roberto Colon told the News Center 7 I-Team.

“By and large the most common thing that were seeing is the fatigue and breathlessness that is extending a little farther than anticipated,” Dr. Colon added. “It’s probably the most noticeable and of all the symptoms.”

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But for West Carrollton firefighter Jesse McPherson his lingering symptoms, after battling COVID-19 in Dec., continue impacting his senses of taste and smell. A challenge for the seven year department veteran, who not only responds to fires, but also natural gas leaks.

“Usually you can smell that stuff when you’re arriving on scene,” McPherson said. “Now I tend to have to get closer which is dangerous.”

Dr. Colon said COVID-19 symptoms lasting in people long after the virus is gone, known as long haulers, is not unusual.

“We’re finding out that it’s actually becoming a lot more common then we previously thought but it’s not universal,” Dr. Colon said.

According to World Health Organization data, most people with mild coronavirus recover within two weeks. The more severe the illness, the more likely someone is to suffer these long-term symptoms.

However, with SARS COV-2 emerging a little more than one year ago, it remains unclear how long these symptoms could last.

“We have just about one year worth of data for a small number of people to understand just how this affects them in a long term,” Dr. Colon said.

A WHO study found 40% of people recovering from the 2003-2004 SARS outbreak still experienced symptoms three and a half years after recovering.

Nearly three months after McPherson’s diagnoses, he’s now trying to retrain his senses.

“There’s something called smell therapy and you basically get some essential oils and sniff them,” McPherson said. “I can smell the oils because they’re very potent obviously so you are supposed to smell them like lemon and you’re supposed to tell yourself what lemon smells like help regrow the supporting cells and all the factory bulbs to help reconnect the wires.”

Dr. Colon said exercises like this can help stimulate the senses and it’s about the only thing researchers have found can help people in this situation.

Medically, Dr. Colon said there are a few things doctors must be conscious of when they treat patients who are suffering from a loss of senses.

“The biggest impact from this is people’s ability to eat and to stay nourished,” Dr. Colon said. “If you think about the enjoyment, we all get from being able to enjoy the smell and taste of food it can affect your day-to-day well-being as well.”

McPherson said right now he’s struggling with this.

“It’s depressing I love to eat,” McPherson said. “It’s not as exciting I don’t like to go out to fancy restaurants, I don’t like to spend the money to go to eat and buy nice things because I can’t taste it.”

And right now, there’s no timeline on when these senses could return.

“It’s now understanding exactly what cells are being affected and how because they don’t appear to be affecting all the cells the same way and not everybody in quite the same manner,” Dr. Colon said.

McPherson said his problem however, is minor compared to how this virus has affected others.

“I was very fortunate this is my only problem and in all reality it’s a minor problem some people have lost their lives.”