LOS ANGELES - Doctors and scientists are finding devastating side effects in COVID-19 survivors even after they have recovered from the virus.
Elisa Wishan tested positive for COVID-19 on March 26 and battled the virus until April 17. She is testing negative now but said she still has many side effects.
"There's some side effects that are not going away, and it's unfortunate. A lot of fatigue, a lot of joint pain, really tired, falling asleep early. I'm a completely different person," she said.
Wishan said she also experiences inflammation in her neck and other areas of her body.
"I've been sick with the flu before, but this was the worst experience I think I've ever experienced in my life. I've had it. I've experienced it, and I'm still experiencing side effects. If they want to go on the news and say it's not real, it is real," exclaimed Wishan.
Dr. Sassan Rafizadeh is a Molecular Physiologist who has been studying the lungs for years. He said the effects are traumatic on the body even when people are discharged from the hospital.
"As doctors and scientists, we are terrified. We've never seen anything like this. Our hospitals are close to full capacity and we haven't even started to talk about long-term consequences," said Rafizadeh.
He said there are many long-term consequences to COVID-19.
"There can be problems with the brain, the heart, the kidneys. If they survive that, what we see in the lungs specifically is fibrosis or scarring," he said.
Pulmonary fibrosis is one of the devastating effects from the virus.
"Once the virus is in the lungs, it initiates a massive inflammatory response and what that leads to is the lungs being flooded with fluid so it's like trying to breathe through a pool of water. It is something that remains in the lungs. It's not something that goes away on its own and the medications are not optimal," Rafizadeh said.
He said the patients who survive ICU admission have to recover in rehab for weeks and their conditions could last a lifetime.
"They're in rehab for weeks, and it takes them a long time to recover. When it comes to pulmonary fibrosis, the prognosis is worse than many cancers," he said.
Dr. Rafizadeh said some data coming in even suggests long-term effects for asymptomatic patients.
"People really need to take it seriously. We just don't know the long term consequences. There's some data coming in that even in asymptomatic patients, there can be long term effects," he said.
Andrew Young, the CEO of Upright Pharmaceuticals, is working on a therapy to target fibrosis with a drug candidate. The drug is in pre-clinical trials right now.
"When someone presents with Covid, if they have an acute case, their immune system goes nuclear and really just causes massive damage, including to the lungs. Vaccines aren't perfect and the people who still get Covid-19 need help," said Young.
Wishan is warning the public to take the virus seriously.
"Thank God I'm alive to tell you guys, but this is a serious situation. You guys have got to be careful. This is not funny. This is a killer. I really thought I wasn't going to make it," said Wishan.
Rafizadeh and other doctors are urging people to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands to prevent a COVID-19 infection.
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