It has been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic spread like wildfire around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), since December 2019, when the first case of COVID-19 was identified in Wuhan, China, more than 119 million people have been infected and more than 2.6 million people succumbed to the virus.
After more than a year, we have come to know a lot about this virus, but we are still learning something new every day. In most cases, adults who are infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms that last for about 10 days, while in some cases, people can have more severe symptoms that last for up to 20 days.
However, in some very rare cases, patients experience lingering symptoms that last for one, two, or even three months. This group includes those who have experienced both mild and severe cases. Initially, these lingering symptoms were ignored as a real medical issue. As health experts step in to try to manage this group of patients and learn more, many are now referring to this group as coronavirus “long-haulers” or “long-COVID.”
This concept is not unique; after many illnesses, including the common cold, influenza, and Epstein-Barr, post-viral symptoms can occur.
The most common symptom which persists is fatigue. However, body aches, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, inability to exercise, headaches, and difficulty sleeping are all symptoms of this condition. It is difficult to predict who will become a long hauler. According to an article in Science, people who were mildly affected by COVID-19 can still have lingering symptoms whereas severely ill people can be back to their normal health in two months.
One of the symptoms described by these people is “brain fog,” one of the most confusing symptoms for long-haulers. Patients have reported saying they are unusually forgetful, confused, or can’t concentrate even when watching TV. This affects a wide range of COVID-19 patients, including those hospitalized and placed in intensive care, and those with mild symptoms that did not require hospitalization, adding to the confusion around this condition. Continued symptoms are more likely to occur in people over the age of 50, people with multiple chronic illnesses, and those who became very ill with COVID-19.
Two groups of people affected by the virus can be categorized as long-haulers:
- Those who experience some permanent damage to their lungs, heart, kidneys, or brain that may affect their ability to function
- Those who continue to experience debilitating symptoms despite no detectable damage to these organs
While the precise cause of these conditions cannot be determined, an early analysis by the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health Research suggests that ongoing long-term COVID symptoms may be due to four syndromes:
- Permanent damage to the lungs and heart
- Post-intensive care syndrome
- Post-viral fatigue syndrome
- Continuing COVID-19 symptoms
At present, health officials are learning more about this condition to determine the best approach to help these COVID-19 long haulers. These patients need proper attention to help them, along with a holistic approach to treat their symptoms. With proper research, we hopefully will be able to provide better care to patients in the future and find a remedy for this condition.