COVID-19 is surging again around the United States thanks to the latest variant BA.5, which is now the dominant strain. While it doesn't appear to be more severe than the previous mutations, experts consider it to be the most transmissible variant to date and it is a concern because it evades immunity and anyone who has been reinfected with the virus is at risk for lung issues. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with family practitioner Dr. Janice Johnston, MD, Chief Medical Officer&Co-Founder at Redirect Health who explains the warning signs that COVID is affecting your lungs and what to know about BA.5. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Persistent Non-Stop Coughing
Dr. Johnston states a, "Dry cough is a typical symptom of COVID-19. However, non-stop coughing that does not improve 2-3 weeks after infection can indicate a lung complication. Persistent coughing is also a symptom of long COVID."
Chest Pain When Breathing
Dr. Johnston tells us, "Acute chest pain may indicate severe COVID-related lung damage or ARDS, which is a sign of lung failure and can lead to lung scarring or even have fatal consequences. Immediate medical attention is required if you are experiencing this symptom."
Shortness of Breath
"Shortness of breath indicates that oxygen is having a hard time getting into your lungs," says Dr. Johnston. "This symptom can quickly turn from mild into severe or even fatal. It's important to seek medical attention in case oxygen support or ventilation is required."
Signs of Other Infections and Complications
Dr. Johnston explains, "Respiratory complications can weaken the immune system, leaving you vulnerable to other illnesses, like sepsis, where the virus infiltrates the bloodstream and attacks other organs like the heart or lungs. Your immune system could also mistakenly attack healthy organs while working overtime to fight the virus. Frequent medical care is required to monitor vitals in high-risk patients in case other complications are likely."
Why is Getting Reinfected with COVID Dangerous?
Dr. Johnston shares, "According to a study of 5.6 million people that were treated through the Health System for the VA, catching the COVID-19 virus more than once can increase the likelihood of long-lasting health problems. Whether the patient was hospitalized as a result of their infection or not, research still showed that these risks were present. Long-COVID has been shown to affect just about every organ in the body, however, the primary health concerns that resulted were related to cardiovascular issues such as strokes, heart failure, and blood clots. Additionally, mental health concerns around depression, substance abuse, and sleep disorders were also high. When compared to patients that only had one infection, those who had been infected a second time were three times more likely to be hospitalized while also doubling the risk of death."
What Should People Know About BA.5?
"Last December, Omicron took over as the dominant variant of COVID-19, however, Omicron has had multiple subvariants, including BA.2 which has been dominant since May of this year," Dr. Johnston states. "In July, the CDC declared that BA.5, another subvariant of Omicron, has taken over as the new dominant strain in the U.S in more than 60% of cases. BA.5 has been a concern due to its transmissibility and that it has been able to evade immunity from vaccines and prior infection. Luckily, there is not a lot of evidence to show an increase in severity of illness as a result of BA.5 and data still shows that hospitalizations continue to be lower with this variant than past variants such as Delta (source). Due to looser public health safety measures and because of BA.5's ability to get past different types of immunity, vaccine makers are looking to adjust their vaccines for future boosters to better safeguard against these new dominant variants."
How Can COVID Affect the Lungs?
Dr. Johnston explains, "COVID-19 is an inflammatory condition that can result in several diseases, conditions, or syndromes that damage the lungs. Illnesses like pneumonia, bronchitis, or lasting complications that cause Sepsis or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) have been observed in COVID patients. The severity of lung damage depends on the severity of the COVID infection itself and how healthy a person is to recover and regain lung function. For example, an elderly person is at higher risk for severe disease because lung tissue is less elastic due to their age."
Who is at Risk for Experiencing Lung Issues with COVID?
Dr. Johnston says, "There are several factors that can contribute to a higher risk for lung issues as a result from a COVID-19 infection. People who are an older age, such as in their 50's and higher, are at an increased risk of contracting more severe illness. Many patients with lung issues that resulted from COVID-19 experienced complications such as pneumonia, sepsis, and in severe cases acute respiratory distress syndrome. However, those with serious underlying health conditions, including COPD, cystic fibrosis, and moderate or severe asthma, are at a higher risk of severe lung issues that can result in hospitalizations or even death."
According to Dr. Johnston, "Lung damage can be common for severe cases of COVID-19, so it's good to consider what we can do to lessen the damage. Make sure you are staying on top of managing any chronic health conditions you may have by speaking with your doctor and taking medication as directed. We also want to encourage healthy eating practices and staying well-hydrated to make sure your body is ready to resist an infection and repair tissue damage quicker. When COVID-19 causes damage to the lungs, it can take time for them to recover, ranging from 3 months to a year to return completely to normal. If you do experience damage, just like with other injuries, you will likely need treatment and therapy to be able to recover easier and faster."
What Former Smokers Need to Know About COVID
Dr. Johnston reveals, "Interestingly, it has been shown that former smokers who contracted COVID-19 were more likely to be hospitalized than those who currently smoke or never have smoked. Additionally, this same study showed that current smokers were less likely to be hospitalized than those who never smoked."
Dr. Johnston states, "We have seen a wave of Americans getting sick from the new BA.5 variant that is successfully evading our immunity from vaccines and past infections. However, even as we see cases spike, health researchers are now estimating that for every reported case of COVID-19, there are approximately 7 unreported cases. This is a result of the massive effort to bring testing into the homes of many Americans, including the government providing free at-home tests to families. With more testing occurring at home, far less cases are being reported unless they result in hospitalizations." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.