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Mercer Island MD explains long-term health risks of viral infection, links to nervous system disorder

Dec 6, 2021, 12:08 PM | Updated: 12:28 pm
Mercer Island MD, Seattle COVID, omicron...
COVID unit at Harborview Medical Center on May 7, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Recently published medical research has found a statistically significant link between influenza infection and the long-term development of Parkinson’s disease. Mercer Island MD Gordon Cohen joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss why those findings clarify the health benefits of vaccines beyond their immediate use for disease prevention.

“What people haven’t really spent much time thinking about are the long-term effects of actually having the disease,” Dr. Cohen told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross. “We know that with having an infection, we often see it as transient. It comes, it goes, and then we don’t have to worry about it ever again.”

“The researchers found that a flu infection was linked to a subsequent diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease more than 10 years later,” he continued. “The odds of developing Parkinson’s disease were elevated by approximately 90% at 15 years, and 70% at 10 years after an infection with the flu.”

“Now, the study itself is not definitive by any means, and the lead investigator acknowledges that, but it really does suggest that there are potential long-term consequences from having the flu,” Cohen said.

The study was conducted with analysis of Danish medical records over the period between 2000 and 2016. Researchers identified 10,271 people who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease over that timeframe, from which the correlation between influenza and Parkinson’s disease was found.

That finding of long-term ramifications from viral infection is a relevant consideration for those skeptical of vaccines, Dr. Cohen explained.

“You have to balance the risk and benefit of getting the vaccine versus the risk of getting the infection. We’re seeing that at 12 months out, people who had a COVID infection are at a higher risk of death from other causes than people who haven’t had a COVID infection,” he said.

“The real question is, when you get a significant infection early on in life, what are going to be the long-term implications of that?” Cohen asked. “And is it going to result in the development of some other disease later in life, especially if you have a genetic predisposition?”

“People say, ‘well, the risk of getting COVID is so low, and the risk of dying of it is so low. I’d rather just take that chance than the risk of having a vaccine.’ What I’m trying to point out here is even a mild COVID infection could trigger the development of another disease later on in life,” he explained.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Mercer Island MD explains long-term health risks of viral infection, links to nervous system disorder