As confirmed Oklahoma cases have now surged past 80,000, Prescott said, accounts like Benefield’s should serve as a warning to those who have relaxed their precautions surrounding the coronavirus. And at OMRF, researchers are part of a worldwide effort to understand the virus, including its long-term symptoms.
OMRF scientist Linda Thompson, Ph.D., is leading the foundation’s study of the body’s immune response to COVID-19. Thompson, an immunologist, attributes the long-term symptoms to the initial havoc the virus wreaks.
“It’s not that the virus is sticking around in the body,” said Thompson, who holds the Putnam City Schools Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research at OMRF. “The body’s immune response seems to go haywire, leaving lasting damage behind. In some people, we’re seeing it in the lungs. Others in the heart. Some even in the brain. Only time and more research will tell the extent.”
However, social media posts suggesting the virus might go dormant like varicella, the virus that causes chickenpox and can later rear its head as shingles, are unfounded.
“Some viruses incorporate themselves inside of our genetic material. COVID-19 does not behave this way,” said Thompson.
For long-haulers like Benefield, the virus doesn’t need to reactivate to cause long-term issues. Half a year after testing positive for COVID-19, he still doesn’t feel back to normal in the first place.
“When I got sick, my biggest fear was the unknown,” said Benefield. “Almost seven months later, that remains my biggest fear. Just because you beat it doesn’t guarantee you get better, and I don’t know if or when I ever will.”
Ryan Stewart is a public affairs specialist at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
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