BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – As we continue to see a trend in a lower number of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 across Alabama, doctors are emphasizing the toll the virus can take on the lungs.
UAB health officials warn the moment we ease up on how we protect ourselves from COVID-19 is when we could see another outbreak.
“I’m really careful to say that we’ve won when I don’t feel that way right now,” UAB epidemiologist Dr. Rachael Lee said.
Officials said now more than ever is the time to get ahead of the virus.
“Right now, is the time to get vaccinated when there are no other variants around because the longer we allow more variants the chance to form, the longer this pandemic is going to be spread out,” UAB School of Public Health Associate Professor Dr. Russell Griffin said.
If you get COVID-19, it could damage your lungs.
Angelica Jefferson has practiced respiratory therapy in Alabama and across the U.S. for 30 years. She said COVID causes lung complications like pneumonia.
“The lungs become filled with fluid and inflamed and it leads to breathing difficulties,” Jefferson said. “For some people breathing becomes so difficult it requires treatment of oxygen and even being placed on a mechanical ventilator.”
This can scar your lungs, leading to further breathing problems even after you defeat the virus. If it gets to the level of sepsis – it can cause the infection to spread through your bloodstream leaving damage everywhere it goes.
“Severe cases of COVID damages your lungs and they can be damaged where they’re irreversible,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson compared a healthy set of lungs versus those infected with COVID-19. She said x-rays show hollow organs that appear dark.
On COVID infected lungs, you can see patchy, white areas that are filled with fluid when these patients develop pneumonia. Jefferson said this is a common side effect that can leave permanent damage and take months of recovery.
Treatment that requires ventilation does not mean you recover the day after you leave the hospital. Especially in these more severe cases it could take months of rehabilitation.
Jefferson said people who are vaccinated recover much more quickly and see less permanent damage.