COVID-19 impacts lasting ‘weeks and months’ in some young people in B.C.: Henry

Virus has proven to be ‘quite stealthy,’ says Dr. Bonnie Henry

While some people can develop severe illness from COVID-19, others may have impacts lasting weeks or months – even if they were never hospitalized, and had a “relatively mild illness.”

That’s according to Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, who added that young people are telling of symptoms such as “fatigue – like difficulty even sitting up – profound fatigue that lasts for a long period of time.”

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Meanwhile, for people who have pneumonias, longer-lasting symptoms have included difficulty breathing and shortness of breath that can “last for a long time,” she said, during Thursday's COVID-19 media briefing.

There’s also a sub-group of people, more likely men than women – although Henry said the reasons for this aren’t completely understood – who have increased clotting in their blood which can lead to clotting of the arteries around the heart as well as heart attacks, challenges with brain injury or pulmonary embolism.

Some of those effects can happen “weeks later,” said Henry.

Young teenagers and young adults also aren't immune to longer-term impacts. There's a post-viral syndrome – seen in this demographic around the world – that can cause inflammation of the blood vessels, she said.

According to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control (CDC), MIS-C syndrome is a condition where body parts – such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs – can become inflamed.

The CDC notes that the syndrome has been seen in children.

While B.C. hasn’t yet seen any positive cases of MIS-C syndrome, Henry said health officials have been watching for it.

“So we are learning more, and we are learning that there can be long-term impacts that can be quite severe even for young people, that last – we only have months to go (by) right now – but that have lasted for many weeks and months for some people,” she said.

No evidence of virus mutation

Henry said there’s no evidence that the virus has mutated in B.C., although that’s something that has been seen in other places.

And when it does mutate, it does so “relatively slowly” compared to other viruses like influenza, which change rapidly.

“There’s a couple of reasons why that’s important,” said Henry. “It means that immunity is likely to last for a longer period of time. It also means that the chances of a vaccine being effective for a longer period of time, and in a broader population, is slightly more likely. So that (mutation) is something we watch really, really carefully.”

Virus is ‘quite stealthy’

While young people are more likely to have milder symptoms of COVID-19, some older patients in long-term care have also shown little to no symptoms at all, according to B.C.’s top doctor.

“We do know that younger people are very likely to have very mild illness,” said Henry.

“Having said that, we also found a very similar thing in elderly people, particularly our elders in long-term care – that sometimes they have very little to no symptoms at all, mostly things like fatigue, or they may not have had a fever, for example.

“So this virus has proven to be quite stealthy in that way, and that makes it a challenge for us. That’s why it’s so important that we reduce our potential for getting exposed in the first place.”

She also stressed the importance of getting tested, as people may not recognize they have symptoms of the virus.

“That’s why we’re saying, (any symptoms), go get tested, particularly if you’ve been at one of the exposure events, and people know who they are,” said Henry, adding that the province has done over 3,800 tests in the last 24 hours.

Some of those tests were people who tested positive Thursday.

B.C. reported 78 new cases Thursday, for a total of 4,274. There are currently 578 active cases in the province. 

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