After Recovering From COVID-19, Many Still Have Painful Symptoms NPR's Scott Simon speaks to Dr. Margot Gage, professor of epidemiology at Lamar University in Texas. She was infected with the coronavirus in March and still suffers from a series of serious symptoms.

After Recovering From COVID-19, Many Still Have Painful Symptoms

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Dr. Margot Gage is among the roughly 2 million Americans who have recovered from a coronavirus infection. But Dr. Gage, like tens of thousands of others, still continues to suffer from confounding and at times painful symptoms. She's also a social epidemiologist and a professor at Lamar University and joins us now from Beaumont, Texas. Dr. Gage, thanks so much for being with us.

MARGOT GAGE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: How are you feeling today?

GAGE: Tired.

SIMON: Yeah. And that's been the case for a few months.

GAGE: Yes, almost going into my sixth month.

SIMON: Can you help us to understand how you've been - how you feel now - how these - what these last six months have been like for you?

GAGE: They've been, health-wise, the worst in my life that I've ever experienced. I've been in and out of the hospital. I see specialists regularly - a lot of being poked and prodded and tests. It's been a challenge.

SIMON: Have you experienced symptoms that aren't on the CDC's list or totally surprised you or something that you just weren't expecting?

GAGE: Yes. The CDC list does not contain all the symptoms that people suffering with COVID long-term can have. A lot of COVID long-haulers are reporting that their nails are growing really long, but our hair is falling out. Other symptoms - for example, I have ringing in my ears that I never had before. That's not on their list. Vision issues. Oh, and another symptom that I forgot about I'm thinking that's not on that list is I have, like, really weird skin problems going on, like weird patches of - it's like a rash. And another symptom is going out into the sun for me is really debilitating. It's like I'm allergic to the sun, almost.

SIMON: And none of these symptoms are on the CDC guidelines.

GAGE: No. And that was the problem in the beginning with me for why it was so hard for me to get my COVID diagnosis in the beginning is because I didn't have a fever or a persistent cough.

SIMON: Yeah.

GAGE: And then later, the list expanded. So as we can see, it's ever-changing - their list - but they need to hurry it up.

SIMON: You did not have a fever before.

GAGE: Ever. I never had a fever. But something - what I do have is - like, the only thing I can describe it as is like having hot flashes. But I'm not in, like, the hot flash...

SIMON: Yeah.

GAGE: ...Age group whatsoever. So I have to keep my house really cold because my body is feeling hot even though I don't have elevated temperature.

SIMON: And yet, I guess technically, on somebody's chart, they would count you as a success story because you're still with us, right? Well - and so we're glad.

GAGE: Probably, yes. My doctors are really happy that my organs were strong enough to keep me alive and going strong.

SIMON: Yeah. Are you able to work?

GAGE: I'm not able to work in the same capacity as what I used to. I'm having memory problems, brain fog. And too much energy can leave me on bed rest.

SIMON: I gather your work includes the study of viruses. What should we learn from people like you at the moment and cases like yours?

GAGE: Well, what we can look at is past history. And we know that with MERS and with SARS and with viruses in general, people experience - can experience post-viral syndrome with symptoms that manifest as chronic fatigue syndrome. So it's kind of to be expected that some people would've contacted what I'm contacting with having - you know, with COVID complications.

SIMON: I wonder if you look at all the official statistics in a different way, given what you've been through. You're in a different category, aren't you?

GAGE: Yes. And I think that scientists need to start looking at us as well because there is a huge proportion of people, this hidden population.

SIMON: And, of course, we note you live in Beaumont, Texas. Texas has obviously been a hot spot. I wonder if you have any words for your fellow Texans you think they ought to hear right now.

GAGE: Well, take precautions because it's not just the flu. And you don't have to be a sick person because I was a healthy person with no preconditions.

SIMON: Dr. Margot Gage is a professor of epidemiology at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. Thank you so much. Good luck. Good health to you.

GAGE: Thank you for having me.

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