As the United States hits the 200,000 mark for Americans killed by the coronavirus, experts say that those numbers don't fully capture the number of Americans whose quality of life has been destroyed.
Surviving the coronavirus is just the first step in a long line of complications many are left with once they make it through the worst of the virus, two experts explained in the Washington Post.
"Even as cases decline, it is possible we could soon be grappling with the burden of prolonged or permanent organ damage among the millions of people who have survived COVID-19," the report explained. "There’s still a lot we don’t know about the long-term effects of this disease, but they could cripple not just these 'survivors' but also our health-care system and our economy, too."
According to the latest research, the coronavirus does serious damage to blood vessels other than just the lungs, which is far more dangerous than what experts first thought. Some survivors are left desperate for lung transplants.
"William Li, recently co-authored a study in the New England Journal of Medicine comparing the lungs of COVID-19 patients to those of patients killed by influenza, and to healthy lungs," the report explained. "The coronavirus was found to infect and inflict serious damage to the vascular endothelium — the single layer of cells that line the blood vessels of organs such as our brain, kidneys, heart and lungs. Coronavirus patients also have a much higher likelihood of experiencing clots in these blood vessels."
It answers a lot of questions for people still suffering the impact of the virus for months. It's been coined "long-haulers syndrome," where patients still struggle to taste and smell, but also cope with "brain fog, trouble breathing, fatigue, aches, hair loss and elevated heart rate months after clearing the viral infection."
More than 20 million people have "recovered" could also be living with serious damage to their arteries and veins carrying blood around their bodies. It can cause strokes, heart attacks, atherosclerosis or myocarditis.
A study published by JAMA Cardiology showed an abnormal heart in 78 out of 100 people who recovered from COVID. In 60 out of 100 people there was inflammation of their heart. There were no preexisting conditions prior to COVID.
While it's something that will leave people forever marred, it also means that the pandemic is going to hit the U.S. healthcare system.
"Before the pandemic, such diseases were responsible for a third of all deaths and a sixth of all health spending," the report explained. "Cardiovascular disease costs the United States more than $500 billion a year. Within 15 years, that tab was expected to exceed $1 trillion. If these conditions proliferate among post-COVID-19 people in the prime of their life, the human and economic costs would be staggering."
Policymakers in Washington haven't even started to understand what we'll face once the pandemic is over and a vaccine is distributed. There aren't any therapies that can help protect people's hearts and vascular systems. When blood vessels contribute to every organ in the body, damaging them means a lifetime of health problems.
"It’s hard to imagine that COVID-19 could have an even bigger impact on public health — and the global economy — than it already has," the report concluded. "But the vascular consequences of the disease, which we’re only beginning to discover, could make this first wave of the pandemic look mild. The work of preventing this second pandemic can’t begin soon enough."