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It is NOT "Just Like the Flu"

This page is for anyone who wonders why I've been so adamant about doing everything I can to avoid catching severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19 disease--even after getting vaccinated and boosted. This includes a change from touring all around the country as I used to and now piercing only twice annually in just one location (Detroit).

I fancy myself somewhat of a researcher (and one would have to be to write a book like The Piercing Bible). I've followed the medical news and the scientific literature closely as it has revealed the latest facts and information. As the pandemic progressed, an abundance of data and research have been collected and compiled. The studies paint a picture of a future fraught with a high potential for ongoing health problems in those who have contracted the virus, including those who did not have severe initial infections. It appears even worse in those who have had COVID-19 multiple times.

To help make a point, let's briefly discuss the pathogen Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the long-term disease it causes: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Within 2 to 4 weeks after infection with HIV, about two-thirds of people will experience a flu-like illness, the so-called "conversion flu," when a person changes from HIV negative to positive. Some people do not have any symptoms at all during this early stage of HIV. This flu-like response to HIV infection potentially could be compared to the initial COVID infection. Yet we all know that with HIV, a flu-like illness is not the primary issue. The real problem is the very serious disease of AIDS that ultimately results if HIV is left untreated.

I'm well aware that there are many differences between COVID-19 and HIV, but I simply wanted to emphasize the fact that an initial infection does not necessarily tell the whole story when it comes to certain viruses. There are other pathogens that also have a milder initial phase but result in more serious long-term health impacts.

We've all heard of Long COVID (also called post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection [PASC]), and this is a more concerning aspect to me. Though now in my 60s, I remain very active and feel healthy, young, and vital. I'd love for that to continue as long as possible. It is unclear why the virus affects some people on an ongoing basis and not others. To date, there is way to know who will suffer from Long COVID. But, it does occur even in those who experience mild or asymptomatic infections. Further, there's no way to know the longer-term implications of COVID infection, though it is already abundantly obvious that the virus can wreak havoc throughout the body. I'm working hard to avoid the risk of an extended illness and disability by trying my best not to get sick in the first place. 

Initial COVID-19 infections in healthy individuals with up-to-date vaccinations, seldom result hospitalization or death--from the current variants, anyway. I'm not so concerned about that, though I personally know people who have had hellacious sickness despite being fully vaccinated. However, the disease is so new that the long-term implications are not yet known. As they come into focus (to the extent possible given the duration since the pandemic started), it is already clear that many serious health problems can result. Initially, it was thought of as a respiratory disease, but there is now ample evidence that SARS-CoV-2 infects and impacts diverse tissues, organs, and systems throughout the body.

According to the CDC, people who experience post-COVID conditions most commonly report the following symptoms (though many others also occur):

General symptoms

  • Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (also known as “post-exertional malaise”)
  • Fever

Respiratory and heart symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)

Neurological symptoms

  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
  • Headache
  • Sleep problems
  • Dizziness when you stand up (lightheadedness)
  • Pins-and-needles feelings
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Depression or anxiety

Digestive symptoms

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain

Other symptoms

  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Rash
  • Changes in menstrual cycles

Below are links to some recent scientific research studies (mostly from 2022) demonstrating the range of conditions and the seriousness of these issues. Millions of people have been affected and continue to suffer ongoing illness, and in some cases they are entirely debilitated by their symptoms. Thousands of additional studies exist, and plenty of others will be published as time goes on. A wonderful site, LongCovidLearning.org, also has links to an abundance of relevant research and information.

• The Epidemic of COVID-19-Related Erectile Dysfunction (2021) and COVID-19 Infection Is Associated With New Onset Erectile Dysfunction(2022)
• Men infected with COVID have one third less sperm compared to uninfected men over 3 months later. Of 100 men infected but not hospitalized, four had no viable sperm. Of 100 men not infected, none had this condition. (Note that vaccination had no effect on sperm counts).
• Excess risk for acute myocardial infarction mortality [dying of a heart attack--most pronounced for those aged 25–44 years]
• More than 50 long-term effects of COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis
• International Multi-Center Study Confirms Stroke Risk in Younger Healthier COVID-19 Patients 
• SARS-CoV-2 and Stroke  
• Silent Killer: Debilitating Strokes Affecting Young Adults Diagnosed with COVID-19
• Many effects of long COVID 
• COVID-19 and Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss: A Systematic Review
• Respiratory Complications after COVID-19
• COVID Long-Haulers: Gastrointestinal System 
• COVID-19 infection is a major cause of acute telogen effluvium (hair loss!)
• Associations between persistent symptoms after mild COVID-19 and long-term health status, quality of life, and psychological distress (In participants with mild acute COVID-19, the burden of persistent symptoms was significantly associated with poorer long-term health status, poorer quality of life, and psychological distress.) 
• New Onset of Autoimmune Diseases Following COVID-19 Diagnosis
• Risk of Incident [new onset] Diabetes After COVID-19 Infection (a 64% greater risk!!!!)
The COVID Heart—One Year After SARS-CoV-2 Infection, Patients Have an Array of Increased Cardiovascular Risks 
• Cognitive dysfunction following COVID-19 infection
• SARS-CoV-2 is associated with changes in brain structure
• Fatigue and cognitive impairment in Post-COVID-19 Syndrome
• Neurological manifestations of post-COVID-19 syndrome
• Altered lung physiology post COVID-19 infection broadly equivalent to that associated with 15 years of aging
• Long-term neurologic outcomes of COVID-19
• Long-term cardiac pathology in individuals with mild initial COVID-19 illness
• Clinical Characteristics and Mechanisms of Musculoskeletal Pain in Long COVID (pain in the muscles and joints, muscle weakness and skeletal muscle damage)
• Long-term cardiovascular outcomes of COVID-19
• Prognosis and persistence of smell and taste dysfunction in patients with covid-19
• Low Cardiorespiratory Fitness Post-COVID-19
• Long COVID endotheliopathy: (a combination of dysfunction of endothelium [the inner cellular lining of the blood vessels], aberrant coagulopathy [excessive clotting and microclots], and inflammation
• Endothelial dysfunction in COVID-19: an overview of evidence, biomarkers, mechanisms and potential therapies (October 2022)
• Post–COVID-19 Symptoms and Conditions Among Children and Adolescents (children and teens who’ve had COVID are at greater risk for blood clots, heart problems, kidney failure, and Type 1 diabetes)

Other articles and information:
• According to CDC data (as of November 2022), over 15% of people in their study still experienced symptoms a one after COVID infection
• Each COVID-19 Reinfection Increases Health Risks
• How Long Covid Reshapes the Brain
• Even Mild COVID Can Increase the Risk of Heart Problems
• Long Covid is keeping as many as 4 million people out of work
• Even mild COVID-19 can cause your brain to shrink
• Long COVID risk falls only slightly after vaccination
• People infected with COVID had a 77% higher risk of developing memory problems
• Brain fog is a disorder of executive function that makes basic cognitive tasks absurdly hard
• Are COVID-19-Linked Arrhythmias Caused by Viral Damage to the Heart’s Pacemaker Cells?
• Heart-disease risk soars after COVID — even with a mild case
• COVID and the Heart: It Spares No One
• Lung Dysfunction in Children and Teens

Finally, for those who doubt the usefulness of vaccination, this study shows that hospitalization rates were 3.5 to 17.7 times higher among unvaccinated adults. Vaccinated adults who were hospitalized tended to be older and were more likely to have three or more underlying medical conditions.

And anyone using the risk of myocarditis to avoid vaccination should be aware of this study which showed the risk of myocarditis from COVID is 7 times higher.