COVID-19 causing cardiac issues in Houston, but you don't have to wait to get help

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston firefighters are dealing with more emergency calls than they were in 2020, and it might be tied to a rise in COVID-19 infections.

HOUSTON FIRE DEPARTMENT EXPERIENCES LARGE JUMP IN CARDIAC AND RESPIRATORY CALLS

The pandemic has shown the Houston Fire Department a change in vehicles is needed. Fire Chief Samuel Pena said instead of trucks, they need ambulances.

"That's really what we need," Pena said. "The number of fires has plateaued over the years, but the number of medical calls has increased year over year."

There are a couple of types of calls on the rise.

Compared to 2020, cardiac arrest calls have increased by 20%,and respiratory difficulty calls by 45%. The number of cardiac arrest calls HFD makes a day is 45, meanwhile, responders take 108 respiratory calls per day.

COVID can impact the heart and lungs, but Pena can't say for sure that's why those calls are increasing.

"It's hard to say because we don't do testing out in the field. But what we do know is what we saw (in 2021) and throughout this pandemic is the patient is waiting too long to call 911," Pena explained.

HOSPITALS ARE SEEING AN INCREASE OF HEART DISEASE DURING THE PANDEMIC

At Memorial Hermann, doctors have seen 10 to 30% incidents of heart disease increasing during COVID infections. UTHealth Houston and Memorial Hermann Dr. Biswajit Kar said you don't want to wait to get help if you're experiencing chest pain.

"It is easier to treat these conditions with full recovery if you find and seek early treatment, rather than sit on it and let the complications actually come and the heart disease progresses," Kar explained.

Kar said COVID can impact the heart during the infection, or months afterward. He said to look for chest pains, dizziness, and irregular heartbeats. Although there's a rise in breakthrough cases, Kar said the vaccine makes a difference.

"If you take the vaccine you have a three times higher rate of getting heart inflammation," Kar explained. "But if you do not take the vaccine and you get COVID you have 16 to 18 times higher of getting your heart inflamed and having a major problem."

COMMUNITIES OF COLOR EXPERIENCING HIGHER RATES OF CARDIAC ISSUES FROM COVID-19

Getting the vaccine is especially important, experts say, for communities of color. Due to health issues found in those communities prior to the pandemic, it can cause greater problems with a COVID infection.

"As a result of that, we see about 2.5 to three times higher mortality amongst Black and Latinos," Kar said.

This is why the Houston council on Wednesday approved a new campaign targeted at Black and brown communities to get more vaccinated, which firefighters hope will cut down on calls.

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