SALT LAKE CITY — The long-term side effects of COVID-19 can be as puzzling to doctors and patients as the virus itself. It can cause inflammation in the heart, lungs and other organs.
One Utah man who was sickened by the virus in March hopes he can actually enjoy a meal again someday.
"It's been almost eight months now, and my taste and smell still haven't recovered yet," said Matt Newey, who caught the virus in Steamboat Springs along with four of his friends in early March.
Gov. Gary Herbert has said his granddaughter has experienced similar nausea around foods after her bout with COVID-19.
"It's a chore to eat," Newey said. "I forget that I'm hungry."
The 24-year-old has lost 20 pounds. At some point, he thinks his body went into survival mode.
"I now can eat foods," he said. "I still don't desire them. But, I can manage just to get by to eat them."
Doctors have seen a variety of side effects from COVID-19 that start in the acute phase and can last for months.
Dr. Emily Spivak, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health, said the long-term side effects can be serious, and even deadly.
"I think it's definitely possible that these are the chronic symptoms or side effects that they will have for the rest of their lives, potentially," she said.
Blood clots in the lungs and brain can affect patients while they are recovering, and possibly even lead to a stroke.
"People also describe a fogginess, where they can't think very clearly and don't feel just right," she said.
Dr. Spivak said some patients have also described a variety of neurologic symptoms in their nerves in different parts of their bodies that don't feel quite normal.
"You hear over and over again our mortality rate in Utah, and even in the United States is low, or is declining. But, that is not the only impact of this virus," she said.
Newey endured months of muscle aches.
"My neck was always just so tense and sore," he said. "It still is, but it's not as inflamed."
He has also felt on-and-off numbness on the right side of his body.
You hear over and over again our mortality rate in Utah, and even in the United States is low, or is declining. But, that is not the only impact of this virus.
–Dr. Emily Spivak, associate professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Utah Health
"The tip of my thumb is still numb," he said.
He still gets a little fatigued, but it's less noticeable when he's busy.
"But, I do notice my lungs will get tight sometimes when I'm out exercising," he said, which is unusual because he always felt healthy and athletic before the virus.
Three smells, however, have returned.
"But, none of them are pleasant smells," he said.
He can now smell gasoline, which could be helpful. Newey's nose also now picks up a pungent smell similar to the distinctive smell of the Great Salt Lake.
"If somebody's cooking, it smells like the Great Salt Lake for some reason," he said.
He also now smells an odd odor he compares to packing foam.
"It makes me worry for other people. I really don't want anyone to have what I've been experiencing because it's not fun at all," he said. "I just plead with anybody, please be cautious out there. It's not worth it."