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

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.