COVID means double trouble and worse

by W. Gifford Jones, M.D. and Diana Gifford-Jones
Common sense health

If ever a time to act on your health, this is it. Study after study in leading medical journals reports compounding troubles from COVID-19. What was described as a lung disease early in the pandemic is now better recognized as an attack on health systems – your own body’s systems involving multiple organs as well as societal systems of disease surveillance and care delivery. Whether you have been infected or not, chances are high your health is becoming worse.

New research should raise alarm bells.

In the journal, Nature, Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of research at Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System, reported on deteriorated health of COVID-19 survivors. To his amazement, the disease was not just deadlier for people with underlying conditions like diabetes. Data show that people are seemingly developing metabolic disease as a result of the infection.

How this happens is yet to be understood. Some scientists think SARS-CoV-2 not only damages the lungs, but other organs too. The pancreas which produces insulin needed to convert blood-sugar to energy might be affected by the infection. Another concern is the sedentary lifestyle brought on by the pandemic. Late or missed diagnoses of health issues among people skipping or unable to maintain medical appointments could be a factor.

Obesity and poor lifestyle issues are leading ever more children down the path to avoidable chronic disease. COVID is compounding problems for children who develop Type 2 diabetes. A study of such youth published in Diabetes Care showed a troubling and unexplained increase last year in diabetic ketoacidosis, a dangerous buildup of acid in the blood due to inadequate insulin supply.

Pregnancy is another area of concern. Research published in JAMA Pediatrics involving 18 countries found COVID-19 in pregnancy was associated with consistent and substantial increases in severe maternal morbidity and mortality and neonatal complications when pregnant women with and without COVID-19 diagnosis were compared. This underscores precautions to prevent COVID illness during pregnancy by following public health measures.

But how is COVID making you sick, even if you don’t catch the virus?

For one, the pandemic has caused a sharp decline in preventative care and screening, particularly for breast, colon, cervical and lung cancers.

One study in California, conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that between March and June of 2020, the rate of cervical cancer screening among 1.5 million women decreased by roughly 80%, compared with the same period in 2019.

Another study at the University of Cincinnati Medical Centre found that in March 2020 alone, more than 800 appointments for lung cancer screening were postponed. Upon resumption of screenings two months later, the percentage of people tested who had lung nodules suspicious for cancer had increased from 8% before the pandemic to 29%.

In some health care systems, a rapid switch to at-home screening tests, such as the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) for colorectal cancer, has kept pace with pre-pandemic testing. But in most places, individuals need to take the initiative to request the test kits and get it done.

Delays in screening, especially among people at risk, can mean missing early diagnosis. Cancers may grow larger and more deadly before they are detected.

Delays in all kinds of surgeries are yet another concern.

Research has only begun to emerge regarding the tsunami of mental health problems that have crept or crashed into the lives of many. An echo pandemic of mental illness will almost certainly follow.

So do not wait for trouble. Prevention is key. Make lifestyle changes to improve your health. Get tested where advisable or do at-home screening. Read past articles at docgiff.com if you need reminders.

The weekly column by W. Gifford-Jones, MD has been published without interruption for 45 years. The same no-nonsense tradition now continues in a father-daughter collaboration. Sign-up at www.docgiff.com to receive our weekly e-newsletter. For comments, contact-us@docgiff.com.

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Dr. Ken Walker (who writes under the pseudonym of Dr. W. Gifford-Jones, MD) is a graduate of the University of Toronto and the Harvard Medical School. He trained in general surgery at Strong Memorial Hospital, University of Rochester, Montreal General Hospital, McGill University and in Gynecology at Harvard. His storied medical career began as a general practitioner, ship’s surgeon, and hotel doctor. For more than 40 years, he specialized in gynecology, devoting his practice to the formative issues of women’s health. In 1975, he launched his weekly medical column that has been published by national and local Canadian and U.S. newspapers. Today, the readership remains over seven million. His advice contains a solid dose of common sense and he never sits on the fence with controversial issues. He is the author of nine books including, “The Healthy Barmaid”, his autobiography “You’re Going To Do What?”, “What I Learned as a Medical Journalist”, and “90+ How I Got There!” Many years ago, he was successful in a fight to legalize heroin to help ease the pain of terminal cancer patients. His foundation at that time donated $500,000 to establish the Gifford-Jones Professorship in Pain Control and Palliative Care at the University of Toronto Medical School. At 93 years of age he rappelled from the top of Toronto’s City Hall (30 stories) to raise funds for children with a life-threatening disease through the Make-a-Wish Foundation. His hobby is trap shooting. He is married to Susan and has four children and twelve grandchildren.Diana MacKay writes in collaboration with her father under the pen name, Diana Gifford-Jones. The daughter of W. Gifford-Jones, MD, Diana has extensive global experience in health and healthcare policy. Diana is Special Advisor with The Aga Khan University, which operates 2 quaternary care hospitals and numerous secondary hospitals, medical centres, pharmacies, and laboratories in South Asia and Africa. She worked for ten years in the Human Development sectors at the World Bank, including health policy and economics, nutrition, and population health. For over a decade at The Conference Board of Canada, she managed four health-related executive networks, including the Roundtable on Socio-Economic Determinants of Health, the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, the Canadian Centre for Environmental Health, and the Centre for Health System Design and Management. Her master’s degree in public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government included coursework at Harvard Medical School. She is also a graduate of Wellesley College. She has extensive experience with Canadian universities, including at Carleton University, where she was the Executive Director of the Global Academy. She lived and worked in Japan for four years and speaks Japanese fluently. Diana has the designation as a certified Chartered Director from The Directors College, a joint venture of The Conference Board of Canada and McMaster University. She has recently published a book on the natural health philosophy of W. Gifford-Jones, called No Nonsense Health – Naturally!The weekly column by W. Gifford-Jones, MD has been published without interruption for 45 years. The same no-nonsense tradition now continues in a father-daughter collaboration. Sign-up at www.docgiff.com to receive our weekly e-newsletter. For comments, contact-us@docgiff.com.