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Long Lingering COVID-19 Symptoms

Written by: Kaylee Zhou

Once diagnosed with COVID-19, a majority of patients recover within two weeks; however, some continue to suffer from symptoms even after negative test results. As we all know, COVID-19 symptoms include coughing, fever, difficulty breathing, fatigue, among others, but some common long-lasting symptoms doctors have noted are lingering fatigue, loss of taste and smell, and breathlessness (Mayo Clinic, 2020). While some doctors suggest these long-lasting symptoms may be side effects of previously endured intensive treatments, others propose that it may simply be caused by the comorbidities, the presence of additional medical conditions, or the older age of infected patients (Davis, 2020).

Those who suffer from long-lasting symptoms have been informally named the “Long Haulers” and even have their own support group set up on a communication site called Slack. The group’s creator, Fiona Lowenstein, said in a past interview, “‘One of the main benefits of the group is meeting others who’ve gone through similar experiences and being able to understand how hard recovery can be’” (Ross, 2020). The group also helps scientists gather more information about each member’s experience with the disease in hopes of fostering future scientific understandings.  further fostering the scientific community. 

Many “Long Haulers” have turned up in various places including the US, UK, Spain and more. Jenny, a resident in the UK, explained her experiences with COVID and how the Slack group helped comfort her nerves. With frustration, Jenny said, “‘I still don’t feel better because a few days ago, I started shivering, like I got a chill somehow’”(Davis, 2020). Alice, from the US, had a very similar experience to Jenny’s in which she was still experiencing symptoms even 50 days after her diagnosis. Again, with concern and frustration, Alice said, “‘The symptoms continued to come and go. It’s like a storm. One day you can have zero symptoms…then it will just go crazy and as quickly as it hits you, it can go’” (Davis, 2020). Many have reported waves of symptoms over the course of weeks fluctuate in intensity and frequency. While many may argue that these lingering symptoms are caused by old age, it has already been proven that age is not the only factor, since children have also reported long-lasting symptoms. For instance, twelve-year old Maggie Flannery has dealt with extreme fatigue and shortness of breath despite her diagnosis in March seven months ago. Her mother, Amy Wilson, said “‘The numbers are with you, but the risk isn’t zero’” (Layton, 2020). 

Scientists have been working diligently these past eight months to not only understand what COVID is, but also how to treat, cure, and prevent it. Now they’re faced with cases of lingering symptoms, for which infected patients want answers as to why their body is reacting the way it is. Ann Parker, an assistant professor in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Johns Hopkins University, believes that it is still not clear whether or not the post-COVID symptoms are unique to COVID. She states, “‘It is not unusual for people who battle any kind of serious infection to feel weak and fatigued for months afterwards’” (Brody, 2020). Many other researchers have also been puzzled by the lingering fatigue in patients; for example, Esther Melamed, an assistant professor of Neurology at the University of Texas at Austin, explained, “‘Why people experience fatigue is not well understood, but it likely has to do with immune system dysregulation, ongoing inflammation, and direct damage to brain or spinal cords affecting communication between neurons’’” (Brody, 2020). These immune system dysregulations have also been rumored to be caused by prolonged Intensive Care Unit stays, which contributes to the doctors’ theories that intensive treatments may be causing these lingering symptoms (Duggal et al., 2020). 

On the other hand, Rebecca Keith, co-director of the Respiratory Recovery Clinic at National Jewish Health,  believes that ICU stays and prolonged drugs are not the only cause of prolonged symptoms. She states, “‘Some patients were never admitted to the ICU or even hospitalized, noting that it is not only those who were initially severely ill who are having problems months later’” (Brody, 2020). This suggests that many other factors played a role in these linger symptoms, which could be comorbidities, age of patients, and more. Dr. Michael Head, research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, also attests to this belief, “‘We know that recovery time after pneumonia is often influenced by the presence of comorbidities and by the age of the patient. Alongside that, some may have undiagnosed co-morbidities which also influences how ill a patient gets and their recovery time’”(Davis, 2020). Dr. Michael Head helps support that the presence of underlying medical conditions contributes to a body’s recovery time and is another factor that may be influencing long-lasting symptoms. 

While the exact cause for lingering COVID symptoms are still unknown, scientists and researchers are split upon the idea of either ICU stays being the factor, or comorbidities and old age. Luckily, scientists and researchers are learning more about the virus each day so hopefully the definite cause of lingering symptoms will be known in the near future. COVID’s abrupt infections and appearance have affected many patients around the globe, and we hope they have a speedy recovery without lingering symptoms. 




Source and References

Brody, B. (2020, September 9). ‘Post-COVID Syndrome’ Is Causing Lingering Symptoms in Some COVID-19 Survivors. 

Davis, N. (2020, May 1). Lingering and painful: the long and unclear road to coronavirus recovery. The Guardian. 

Duggal NA, Snelson C, Shaheen U, Pearce V, Lord JM. Innate and adaptive immune dysregulation in critically ill ICU patients. Scientific Reports. 2018 Jul;8(1):10186. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-28409-7.

Duhaime-Ross, A. (2020, June 26). Covid-19 “long-haulers” find a community online. Vox. 

Layton, J. (2020, October 27). COVID Long Haulers Still Suffering Long-Term Effects Of Virus Months Later. CBS New York. 

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, October 7). COVID-19 (coronavirus): Long-term effects. Mayo Clinic. 

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