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‘Unpredictable pathogen’: New coronavirus study highlights severity of illness

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While some people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus complain of symptoms like a loss of smell or taste, COVID-19 can cause a wide range of health complications far more serious than the typical symptoms, according to a new, wide-ranging study.

Some of the most common complications associated with COVID-19 included pneumonia, respiratory failure, kidney failure and sepsis or systemic inflammation, according to the peer-reviewed research, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) on Tuesday.

“For anyone that’s thinking this is really not that serious a pathogen, have a read of that study,” Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said.

“The kinds of complications are significant and also, it’s a fairly unpredictable pathogen,” he told Global News.

Read more: COMMENTARY: How COVID-19 lockdown inactivity can lead to muscle loss

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COVID-19 — the highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus — is also associated with other lung and cardiovascular conditions, such as blood clotting disorders and heart inflammation, the researchers said, although the overall risks from these are comparatively low.

“The main contribution that I think the study provides is that for all these different complications, we’re giving those actual risk estimates so that clinicians and patients, if they’re concerned about a particular potential complication, they can actually get a sense of how likely it is for those to occur,” William Murk, a medical student at the Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, University of Buffalo, N.Y. and co-author of the study, told Global News.

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The study was based on an analysis of more than 70,000 people who had a coronavirus-related hospital visit between Mar. 1 and Apr. 30, 2020, in the U.S.

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Bowman said that while the analysis confirms what was already known about COVID-19, it just serves as a reminder of the severity of the disease at a time when people are beginning to get exhausted by lockdowns as well as for those who might be hesitant to take the vaccine in the weeks and months ahead.

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On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a select few Canadians could receive the country’s first coronavirus vaccine shots from American pharmaceutical company Pfizer as early as next week.

Canada has authorized two drugs for treating COVID-19 — remdesivir and bamlanivimab — while a number of other therapeutics are also being used and experimented as part of clinical trials across the country.

Read more: Coronavirus therapeutics: A look at COVID-19 treatments in Canada

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), most people who catch the coronavirus develop mild symptoms and illness and recover without hospitalization.

Symptoms can range from fever, sore throat, dry cough and tiredness to a loss of taste or smell, skin rash and breathing difficulties.

Last month, a study published in the Lancet medical journal found that people who contract the new coronavirus are most likely to be highly infectious for nine days after the onset of symptoms, reinforcing the need for self-isolation for at least 10 days.

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However, depending on the severity of the illness, patients may also experience long-term effects ranging from fatigue, shortness of breath to chest pain, depression, muscle pain and heart palpitations, according to the U.S. CDC.

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More than eight months since being put on a ventilator after suffering breathing difficulties and pneumonia, COVID-19 patient Tony Passarelli, is still on oxygen support through nasal tubes.

As his condition deteriorated in April, doctors at Toronto General Hospital had to put Passarelli on the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine as a last resort.

Now, the 52-year-old from Bolton, Ont., is on a slow path to recovery.

My lungs are scarred pretty bad,” Passarelli told Global News in an interview last month.

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“They’re not sure if I’m going to be on the oxygen permanently yet, but I’m still sore in my legs and my arms.”

His wife Linda said: “We were informed it was going to be a very long recovery.”

Read more: A 23-year-old had a stroke due to coronavirus. He hopes his story is a ‘wake-up call’

Since the virus was first reported in China last December, more than 67 million people have been infected worldwide as of Monday, according to a running tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The global death toll now stands at over 1,540,000, with the United States, Brazil and India continuing to lead in both cases and deaths.

The pandemic has already crippled economies, overwhelmed health-care systems and brought life to a grinding halt for much of the world.

However, promising results of vaccine trials by frontrunners Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca and the word’s first approval by the United Kingdom last week have offered renewed hope.