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The long term effects of COVID-19: Dr. Rai talks brain fog and heart and kidney issues

Published: Oct. 13, 2020 at 7:46 AM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - COVID-19 is not an illness that just impacts your respiratory system. “What we’ve learned about this virus--it affects your brain. You lose your taste and smell. It affects your heart. It causes myocarditis. It can directly infect your kidneys. That’s very different from a typical, normal respiratory virus,” says Dr. Ashok Rai, President and CEO of Prevea Health.

Dr. Rai joined us on Action 2 News This Morning Tuesday to talk about the long term effects of COVID-19 and why it’s so important for people in rural areas to wear a mask.

Have a question for Dr. Rai? Email news@wbay.com.

THE PAINFUL BATTLE

Oshkosh businessman Mark Schultz shared with Action 2 News his painful battle with COVID-19. We don’t always get to see how people are struggling with the virus.

"Credit to Mr. Schultz and everything he’s done to educate the community through his videos. Our thoughts and prayers are with him to get as better as quickly as he can. But I think it goes to show just what the virus can do to you, how it can make you feel. Understand that Mr. Schultz is a medical floor patient, just requiring a nasal cannula for oxygen. Imagine the patients that are requiring a bipap machine or are being intubated in an intensive care unit and what they’re going through. The fear that they have, just like the fear that Mr. Schultz has expressed, it’s great that he’s doing this. I wish he wasn’t in that position. I wish nobody was in that position. But the fact that he’s educating the public is great.

MASK MANDATE DECISION

A judge has upheld Gov. Tony Evers' mask mandate extension. What would have happened if the mandate was overturned?

“Right now, we still don’t even have full compliance with the order, so not having it at all, all things could do is get worse. That’s what we don’t need right now. We need people to comply with the order. If you’re inside in a congregant setting, wear your mask. Read the order. You don’t have to wear it when you’re running outside. But when you’re inside in a congregant setting, wear your mask. Help control this virus and help control this spread. Without it, I don’t even want to know where we’d be.”

LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF COVID-19

"Once again, I don’t think we can say this enough, we’re learning every day about COVID-19. We’ve had eight months to study it. We haven’t even hit that full year point, and normally we have decades to research and make comments. But we’re definitely seeing long-term effects, both in the short term, long term of this disease, where people just don’t feel quite right. Some of them have spent time in the hospital. Some haven’t. As we look backwards, we can tell that people who have been in the hospital tend to have more of those long-term symptoms, just because of the severity of the illness.

“I think everybody looks at COVID-19 and says, it’s a lung disease, it’s a cold, it only happens in my nose and my longs. What we’ve learned about this virus--it affects your brain. You lose your taste and smell It affects your heart. It causes myocarditis. It can directly infect your kidneys. That’s very different from a typical, normal respiratory virus. And we’re starting to see the long-term effects of what happens when a virus infects the whole body.”

WISCONSIN HOSPITAL SITUATION

“Statewide, not good at all. Locally, about level, which is not a great number to be at. ICU admissions, those who are requiring critical care, those numbers continue to go up. We haven’t bent that trend downward. The total number of positives, I hate to look at things day by day, I like to look at things on a 14-day trend, our 14-day percent positivity here in Brown County and Outagamie County isn’t at a good number at all. Some of the highest we’ve seen. We continue to see this spreading now amongst all age groups, which is another big concern of ours. So I’d say overall, from hospitalizations to ICU admissions to total numbers to percent positivity, there isn’t a metric heading in the right direction right now.”

RURAL AREAS AND MASKING

“It’s actually one of our scariest situations right now, if you think about it. In a rural area, we call them testing deserts. When you have to drive more than 20-to-30 minutes to get a test, that’s not handy. If it starts to spread very quickly, it’s hard to get people tested and get them isolated. The only other mitigation that we have there is physical distancing and masking. So if people aren’t physical distancing, they’re gathering; they’re not masking; and they don’t have access to testing like you would if you lived in Green Bay, those are three strikes against a small town. All it takes is one match, a couple people that are positive, to light that flame and it will be much harder to control than it would be in a larger city. So it’s a big concern for those of us in Northeast Wisconsin that have neighbors, that have friends and family up in smaller towns to the north. What are we going to do in those areas?”

TASTE AND SMELL LOSS

A viewer lost taste and smell as a symptom of COVID-19. When will it come back?

“From what I’ve talked to patients about, it’s one of the last symptoms to get better. It can take weeks, if not over a month, to get better. You have to understand that COVID-19, SARS-Cov-2, is a new virus to us, so we’re learning every day about it. This is a very unique symptom that we started to realize in the early spring, so we’re still learning the why behind it. Expect it to come back, it’s just going to take time.”

UNDERLYING CONDITIONS AND VACCINE

A older viewer with underlying health conditions wants to know if he’ll be among the first to get the vaccine.

“Our number one goal is to immunize those who need it first, such as those who have underlying health conditions. It’s really hard to say who’s going to get it first right now, because we’re still waiting for the trials to be complete. We need to look at that safety profile, we need to make sure everybody qualifies for it. But understand when that vaccine was being designed, it was being designed for people like you.”

VACCINE TRIAL

Johnson & Johnson has halted its COVID vaccine trial due to an “unexplained illness.” Is this normal?

“In all honesty, that’s why we do the trial. We want to make sure that people are safe. This is actually a good sign that a trial was stopped because of an illness. Think about putting 60,000 people in a trial. Number one, we don’t even know if this person got the vaccine or a placebo--basically just water being injected into your arm. And we want to understand why that person is sick, what illness they got. I think it’s very important that J&J does this, and it shows us all that the trial is truly being monitored the way it needs to be.”

ELECTIVE SURGERIES

“I think unfortunately we use the word elective and it doesn’t translate very well. It’s really outpatient surgeries, such as you don’t need a bed overnight. Those are still going on. That staff, surgical tech, is not somebody you can pull to work in an intensive care unit, generally. So it’s a safe process. Back in the spring when we stopped it, we didn’t have the ability to test you before your procedure, now we do. So outpatient procedures are happening everyday, as they should. People need that care. The inpatient procedures, the surgery that you have to spend the night in the hospital, those are the ones that we look at day by day and see if we have a bed for you. And remember, those are really important surgeries to be done as well. It could be a woman with breast cancer that needs to have a bilateral mastectomy, has to spend a night or two in the hospital. We want to make sure that patient has a bed as well. And that’s what’s happening right now. COVID patients are taking up beds. Those are the things we have to look at day by day.”

STAFFING SHORTAGES

“A staffing shortage is just not a nurse. And a bed is just not an empty space in a room with a bed sitting there. That bed has to be staffed. It has to be staffed by a nurse. It has to have a telemetry monitor. Somebody who’s watching that monitor in your rhythm strips, your heart strips, at all times. Somebody’s got to be able to clean that room, somebody’s got to be able to feed you. And we need people to transport you from places to places, hospital for testing. So there are so many staff people involved, and we’re getting people who are getting sick across that entire spectrum. So that makes it a day by day, hourly by hourly type of situation of can we continue to fill a bed?”

FLU VACCINE AND COVID VACCINE

If someone gets a flu shot, would they be able to get a COVID vaccine, too?

“It’s important to understand we have at least a month or two, if not longer, away for a COVID-19 shot. So right now, to make that event a moot point, get your flu vaccine now. Everybody should be getting that as soon as they can get in for a shot, especially if you’re over the age of 65. Right now we don’t know the safety efficacy, we don’t know a whole lot about the COVID-19 vaccine, so the best thing you can do is get your influenza vaccine now and get that question out of the way.”

RAPID TEST AVAILABILITY

“The most commonly used rapid test, the ones you hear about on news, are what we call an antigen test. It’s reliable if you have symptoms. So if you’re day five to seven of your symptoms, and it’s positive, you’re positive. But if it’s negative, we still have to do that traditional molecular test, that PCR test, send it off to a lab. So to actually do that rapid testing and to make it efficient through a drive-through line, we may have to swab you two-to-four times, depending on the type of test we’re doing. So we need to be able to operationalize that. Right now, we’re validating those results, making sure they’re accurate. We’re testing those rapid tests on our own health care workers and making sure they’re working before we roll it out to the public.”

SELF-SERVICE TESTS

Are self-service tests reliable? Do they give false positives?

“I think in that case, if you had symptoms, and it’s within the first week of your symptoms and it’s positive, you’re positive. If it’s positive and you had no symptoms, it needs to have a confirmatory test and the lab will let you know that.”

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