Long Haulers and COVID-19

Plate V 1771 by John Hunter, The natural History of the Human Teeth

Last December, my son laughingly showed me a video that was going viral of representative Louie Gohmert of Texas making a speech while his tooth fell out of his mouth and he proceeded to roll the tooth around without stopping.

“Don’t laugh he probably had COVID and now his teeth are compromised” I said. With a little digging in the papers, I read that Gohmert did test positive for the virus in July, so it would not be unreasonable to conjecture that this well-known anti masker was losing his tusks over his obstinate political stand.

As someone who has suffered from a lifetime of chronic infections due to a primary immune disorder (mine is rare and genetic), my main concern is not only can I survive Covid-19, but can I live with surviving COVID-19? There are just people out there who can’t really shake the virus. Moreover, we still don’t know exactly how long immunity will last and even how the virus can affect the body. We are just starting to see long term neurological, cognitive and even psychotic disorders that start after bouts with the disease. For those who develop chronic illness, we call them “Long haulers”.

According to William A. Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor and founder of the university’s cancer and HIV/AIDS research departments, “(COVID) interacts with our immune system in complex ways, resembling polio in some of its behavior and HIV in others. … But the cold causing coronaviruses, just like HIV, also have their tricks. Infection from one of them never seems to confer immunity to reinfection or symptoms by the same strain of virus—that is why the same cold viruses return each season. These coronaviruses are not a hit-and-run virus like polio or a catch-it-and-keep-it virus like HIV. I call them “get it and forget it” viruses—once cleared, your body tends to forget it ever fought this foe. Early studies with SARS-CoV-2 suggest it might behave much like its cousins, raising transient immune protection. “Scientific American October 2020)

 My personal immunologist has been very busy studying the cognitive effects that COVID long haulers have endured. In my last virtual check-in, she described some of the pen and pencil tests she administered to her long hauler patients. “Wow that sounds like the concussion tests my kids had when they played Rugby!” Indeed, she noted “Often cognitive difficulties (from COVID) correlate with previous concussions.”

What are the political health implications? We now have a new variant that is a LEAST 50% – 70% more transmissible here is the US. The variant was discovered in the UK and it is believed that it developed during a strict lock-down. I can only imagine a near future world of 15-year olds with dentures, the rollout of portable iron lungs, dementia wards created just for ex athletes… and my 26 year old daughter placing me in front of cartoons so she can get some work done. It’s just better not to get it. Please be careful.

Additional Resources

Understanding long covid: a shortcut to solving ME/CFS? (ME RESEARCH REVIEW)

Some Covid Survivors Haunted by Loss of Smell and Taste (NYT)

Six months after leaving the hospital… (NYT)

The Problem of ‘Long Haul’ COVID (Scientific American)

COVID-19 Can Wreck Your Heart, Even if You Haven’t Had Any Symptoms (Scientific American Health & Medicine December 2020)