Baylor College of Medicine’s Dr. Peter Hotez warned Wednesday that the long-term health consequences of the coronavirus remain uncertain, even though medical professionals have a better grasp of treating a current infection.
“We still have to address that long-term debilitating effects. The effects of this virus are going to haunt us for a generation, I’m afraid,” Hotez said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch.”
Hotez’s comments come as states in the South and West such as Arizona, California and Texas experience a dramatic rise in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. In Texas, in particular, total cases have more than doubled since Memorial Day, and its governor, Greg Abbott, has ordered hospitals in eight counties to suspend elective procedures to preserve bed capacity.
But Hotez, dean of Baylor’s National School of Tropical Medicine in Houston, said some patients who end up in the intensive care unit because of the virus are able to leave quicker than patients were earlier in the pandemic. He attributed that to a range of improved treatments from convalescent plasma to Gilead Sciences‘ antiviral drug remdesivir.
“So we are doing better at ICU care, and we’re learning how to take care of these patients,” Hotez said, adding that those developments may ultimately lower the mortality rate for a virus that has so far killed at least 512,000 people across the world.
Yet for all that medical professionals have learned about Covid-19, Hotez said he still worries about what they do not know about its impacts on people who become infected but survive.
“We’re starting now to hear about permanent injury to the lungs, to the … heart, the vascular system, permanent neurologic injury because of this virus,” Hotez said.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute — part of the National Institutes of Health — announced last month that it was beginning a study to examine the long-term health impacts of the coronavirus. The study hopes to examine 3,000 adults who were hospitalized with Covid-19 in the U.S.
Hotez, who also is co-director for vaccine development at Texas Children’s Hospital Center, called the recent surge of coronavirus cases in the Lone Star state “scary.”
As of now, hospitals in Texas still have capacity for more patients, but “that’s not the point,” Hotez said. “The point is we’re seeing this very steep rise in community transmission across the metro areas of Texas, especially Houston.”
If that spread of the virus is not slowed, Hotez said, even the Texas Medical Center — the world’s largest medical complex, located in Houston — will be strained. “And that’s where I think a lot of the emphasis has to be on right now. How do we interrupt that steep, steep acceleration that we’re seeing?”