The Perfect Enemy | UCSF’s Wachter says his wife now likely has long COVID and her health is ‘not great’
July 6, 2022

UCSF’s Wachter says his wife now likely has long COVID and her health is ‘not great’

UCSF’s Wachter says his wife now likely has long COVID and her health is ‘not great’  San Francisco Chronicle

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Dr. Bob Wachter, UCSF’s chair of medicine, says his wife, Katie Hafner, is doing “not great” weeks after getting COVID-19 and is suffering brain fog and other symptoms.

Providing an update on Hafner’s condition following the journalist and author’s positive test in May, Wachter said in a lengthy Twitter thread Monday that “many people ask how my wife fared after her COVID case — we truly appreciate the concern. The answer is: not great.”

Five weeks post-infection, Hafner is likely suffering from the symptoms of long COVID, including fatigue and periodic headaches, he said. Noting that she hasn’t yet reached the official long COVID threshold — symptoms persisting two months after infection — Wachter said, “Whatever the definition, it sucks — she’s an amazingly high energy person, & now she’s wiped out most afternoons.”

Hafner, who is vaccinated and double boosted, initially had a mild case of COVID-19.

“Yet here we are, with symptoms that are unpleasant every day, and on some days truly interfere with her ability to work,” said Wachter, who has become one of the Bay Area’s leading voices on COVID-19.

He also questioned whether the antiviral Paxlovid was effective in preventing persistent COVID symptoms despite its ability to reduce the viral load to prevent the most severe outcomes in people who are infected. Wachter pointed to a UCSF clinical trial that found the drug reduced the risk of death and hospitalization by 89%.

Hafner suffered a rebound infection after her course of Paxlovid, which made Wachter wonder if that had increased her odds of long COVID.

“No way to know, but crucial to study,” he said.

Wachter said in an interview with The Chronicle last week that his wife is taking daily naps, often an hour or longer, which is out of character for her. They both worried she’d have trouble fulfilling upcoming commitments. Watching his wife’s experience has recommitted him to cautious behaviors to avoid the virus, he said.

Some studies show elevated rates of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, blood clots and cerebral damage in COVID survivors.

“While there’s always a risk of confounding (ie, that someone with undiagnosed diabetes or heart disease is more susceptible to COVID, so it’s really effect-cause rather than cause-effect), at this point I find the overall conclusions credible,” Wachter said in a tweet.

That left him, he tweeted, to face two “disconcerting premises: 1) Tens of millions of people with COVID will have ongoing symptoms that interfere with quality of life; in some they’ll be disabling, & 2) A COVID infection may significantly increase the long-term risk of non-infectious problems like heart attacks, diabetes, & dementia.”

The World Health Organization defines long COVID as symptoms lasting at least two months after infection, without other diagnosis to explain them. A $1.5 billion National Institutes of Health project is studying long COVID and its symptoms, and President Biden has announced the National Research Action Plan on long COVID to accelerate research.

Wachter had announced on Twitter that Hafner tested positive for the coronavirus on May 8 after a trip to a conference and while the couple visited Palm Springs. That was after they had diligently followed COVID-19 safety measures for more than two years, avoiding high-risk situations.

Wachter managed to avoid infection by wearing an N95 mask on their drive home and isolating himself once back in San Francisco.

“She let her guard down at one meeting, and five weeks later she doesn’t feel close to right,” he said in the interview last week. “I’m still being careful, and watching my wife over the past five weeks has only convinced me more. If I can somehow avoid getting COVID, that’s a good thing to do.”

On Monday, he said that with Bay Area cases remaining “sky-high,” he wears a mask indoors and avoids most high-risk situations.

“I hope rates will come down, or we’ll get reassuring news about long COVID, or something else happens that makes me comfortable returning to ‘normal,’” Wachter said. “But with each variant getting more infectious and immune-evasive, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”

San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Erin Allday contributed to this story.

Aidin Vaziri (he/him) is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: avaziri@sfchronicle.com