What are ‘COVID’ toes and what causes them?

covid toes coronavirus
Photo via Donnie Ray Jones/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

There are many different symptoms that can signal a case of COVID-19, including muscle aches and pains, loss of taste or smell, chills, and now “COVID toes.”

The phrase “COVID toes” refers to blue or purple lesions on the feet. It is a condition only some COVID-19 patients are developing. Dr. Ebbing Lautenbach, chief of infectious disease at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, told USA Today the lesions are typically “painful to touch” and could feel like a “hot, burning sensation.”

COVID toes are typically seen in children and young adults and have primarily been discovered in patients who don’t exhibit any other symptoms of COVID-19. Experts say this is likely because younger people tend to have better immune systems.

COVID toes are not listed as an official symptom of COVID-19 and medical experts don’t definitively know what causes them. There are two theories: They could be an inflammatory response to the virus or a clotting of blood vessels. But for now, it is unclear. 

Some of the symptoms that have emerged in coronavirus patients can last for several months, even when it’s supposedly left the body.

Dr. Nate Favini, who has treated COVID-19 patients in San Francisco, told Business Insider. “We’re definitely seeing people whose symptoms last longer than two weeks. It’s hard to say what percent of people have symptoms that last beyond two weeks, but we’re definitely observing that as a not-uncommon phenomenon. The virus causes all kinds of inflammation and dysregulation in your body and it can take even longer, after you’ve cleared the virus, for all of those things to go back to normal.”

The lesions caused by COVID toes can go away on their own in a week to 10 days, according to Lautenbach, but they could also lead to respiratory problems and other symptoms of COVID-19.

“This is a manifestation that occurs early on in the disease, meaning you have this first, then you progress,” Lautenbach said. “Sometimes this might be your first clue that they have COVID when they don’t have any other symptoms.”

Sources: CDC, USA Today, Northwestern Medicine, International Federation of Podiatrists

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