Do you have a strange Covid symptom? You are not the only one. Between jagged tongues, chilblains on the fingers, red bruises, swollen eyes and hair loss, we discovered the hard way that Covid has many faces and can also manifest itself with very unusual symptoms, not typically caused by respiratory viruses.
No one knows exactly how often these rare conditions occur, nor is it yet clear whether Sars-Cov-2 is the real culprit or just a trigger for an already existing problem. But to make a hypothetical estimate, considering the overall 637 million cases in the world, if the incidence were even just 0.1%, there would be at least 600,000 unconventional symptoms to analyse.
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Whether or not a patient has been hospitalized, according to a Scottish study published in Nature almost half of those infected have not fully recovered six to 18 months later while Spanish research recently published in Jama Network Open reveals that 59.7% of those who have contracted Covid still have at least one symptom two years later. “Every infectious disease has common and uncommon manifestations – recalls the infectious disease specialist Mark Mulligan of NYU Langone Health – . And as we learn more about the coronavirus, we may better understand the underlying causes of these rare symptoms, but until then, that’s largely speculation.”
“Statistically speaking, we should expect to find people with increasingly strange consequences,” he says Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California San Francisco. “Doctors around the world have already seen a bevy of bizarre cases, problems that can be very worrying for patients even if they aren’t. That’s because most go away on their own, without the need for any specific treatment.”
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In the meantime, scientific literature begins to enrich itself with the most unusual and representative clinical cases, in which some of us could recognize ourselves without knowing that they are a consequence of Covid.
The doctor Saira Chaughtai of Hackensack-Meridian School of Medicine released one of its case reports in October after a patient showed a symptom she’d never seen before: Ten days after testing positive for Covid, the woman’s tongue began to swell and then develop annoying stomatitis. Oral sores can look different between patients. Chin-Hong saw many people whose tongues were covered in thrush. One patient had it for over six months from the first positive swab and, since no traditional therapy worked, he opted for an experimental one, photobiomodulation: he irradiated the tongue with a laser used to treat muscle lesions, thus improving blood flow and promoting their healing.
The recorded cases of “Covid foot” are decidedly more frequent, which appears to be the most common way in which the coronavirus affects the skin, developing swellings and redness on the ends of the fingers, similar to chilblains. As reported by theAmerican Academy of Dermatology Association “The youngest people are most likely to develop this condition: patients who are healthy, asymptomatic or with mild symptoms”.
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From what we know so far, “it seems that most people only develop this symptom on their toes, one or more toes,” says pediatric dermatologist Amy Paller of the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. “You may see a mild redness at first that gradually turns purple, but most feel nothing and don’t even realize the symptom unless itching and blisters develop.”
The podiatrist Michael Nirenberg of Crown Point, Indiana, has seen over 40 people with these symptoms. And although they seem to clear up within two months, the rash on a 59-year-old man’s big toe lasted 670 days. His experience has been reported on Journal of Cutaneous Pathology .
Among other unusual dermatological symptoms, Covid also appears to trigger itchy rashes on the chest and hips. Some people see their skin swelling and turning red or blue, others develop lesions similar to measles or chicken pox that last between two and twelve days. Then there is the Covid eye. A 9-year-old British boy has lost sight in one eye for a week after testing positive. And doctors determined that he had developed orbital cellulitis, a bacterial infection in the eye socket that, if not treated quickly and aggressively, can lead to blindness.
Genomic studies are providing the first clues as to why Covid affects people so differently. But “we can’t really predict who will get what,” concludes Dr. Chin-Hong. In his experience, “strange symptoms tend to occur more often in people who have not been vaccinated. And that alone should be a good reason to get immunised”.