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'Long-haul' of COVID-19 can make food taste rotten, Newsday panelists say

Local medical experts answer your questions about COVID-19

Local medical experts answer your questions about COVID-19 symptoms and treatment, and discuss research on "long-haulers." Sign up for COVID-19 text alerts at Panelists include Dr. Michele C. Reed, Owner/ Medical Director, MS Family Medicine Health Care, P.C.; Dr. Nicolas Hernandez, Family Medicine Attending Hospitalist at Northwell Health Plainview Hospital; and Dr. Alan Bulbin, Director, Division of Infectious Diseases and Antimicrobial Stewardship, St Francis Hospital.

Cilantro, oranges, plain and vanilla yogurt, cottage cheese and smoked Gouda cheese now taste rotten for her.

It's coffee, soda, chocolate and peanut butter for him.

Those are the foods a couple told a Newsday Live webinar Wednesday the coronavirus has indefinitely ruined, even months after recovery from infection. The man and woman are like 1 in 10 COVID-19 patients who become "long-haulers."

Long-haulers experience prolonged COVID-19 illness post acute COVID-19, according to an August article in the BMJ, a medical trade journal. It’s not known whether the damage is permanent.

The phenomenon was the latest topic of Newsday’s webinar series, hosted Wednesday by associate editor Joye Brown, exploring life during the pandemic — past sessions have covered remote learning, the vaccine, travel and more.

Additional long-haul symptoms can include headaches, trouble sleeping, body aches, joint pain, coughing and debilitating fatigue.

While most patients regain smell and taste within a few weeks or a month, some don’t, said Dr. Alan Bulbin, director of St. Francis Hospital’s division of infectious diseases and antimicrobial stewardship.

For those who don’t, returning to the olfactory and gustatory status quo might necessitate special training. Being able to detect a smell can mean the difference between life and death, including during a fire or gas leak.

"You really are gonna have to try to adapt to that new deficiency. It could be somewhat dangerous in the setting of a fire or otherwise, so you just really have to be more mindful that this is a new normal for you," Bulbin said.

Dr. Michele Reed, head of MS Family Medicine Health Care, is herself a long-hauler, with lingering respiratory symptoms.

"I used to run. I can run still, but not as much without using my inhaled steroid first and then my Proventil as needed," she said.

Dr. Nicolas Hernandez, an attending physician at Northwell Health’s Plainview Hospital, who was also infected with the virus, noticed his sense of taste had been lost — his coffee tasted bitter — as had his wife’s sense of smell.

"When she was feeling better, she started decontaminating the house, but she didn’t realize how much detergent she was using and Clorox," he said, "and I started coughing, coughing, coughing, coughing."

Within weeks, he said, both had regained the lost senses.