The Long-Term Health Effects of COVID-19, Explained

BY OLIVIA GYAPONG   SEPT. 16, 2020
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What’s the latest news on COVID-19?

  • Coronaviruses are a family of crown-shaped viruses; certain coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19, cause respiratory diseases.1
  • There are currently 6.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States, and 195,500 virus-related deaths as of Tuesday, according to the New York Times.3
  • Two weeks ago, the level of positive cases was shown to have decreased in adults, but increased in those between 5-17 years old.4
    • People of color are nearly five times as likely to contract the virus.5
    • Of slightly more than 10,000 hospitalized adults studied, 90.3% had underlying medical conditions. Of slightly more than 300 children hospitalized studied, 50.3% had underlying medical conditions. Those with obesity and asthma are most at risk.6
  • 46,481,561 tests have been administered since March 1, 2020; 8.5% of those tests have come back positive.7
  • As the disruption of daily life reaches the six-month mark in the U.S., there have been reported instances of COVID-19 infections resulting in long-term health consequences.8

Which long-term health effects have been reported so far?

  • COVID-19 causes respiratory problems, but can also damage organs outside the respiratory system, a process which may cause long-term health problems.9
    • The coronavirus can cause strokes, seizures, and can lead to temporary paralysis. COVID-19 has also been shown to cause blood clots in the heart, as well as weaken blood vessels, increasing the likelihood of heart failure.10
  • Reinfection may be possible since antibodies do not last forever.
  • Pneumonia, a complication of COVID-19, leads to scarring of lung tissue and long-term breathing problems.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome is one of the most prevalent long-term side effects in COVID-19 patients.13
  • According to Science magazine, “The sheer breadth of complications linked to COVID-19 is mind-boggling.”14

How bad are these long-term health consequences?

  • It’s still not clear. Just as symptoms for the coronavirus vary widely, long-term effects of the virus vary widely as well.
    • Out of 143 patients observed in an Italian COVID-19 study, 87.4% of those who were documented as recovered still experienced effects as many as two months after the start of their symptoms.16
    • In one account from Science magazine, “[University College London Professor Athena] Akrami’s [COVID-19] symptoms waxed and waned without ever going away. She’s had just 3 weeks since March when her body temperature was normal … Thousands echo her story in online COVID-19 support groups. Outpatient clinics for survivors are springing up, and some are already overburdened.”17
  • A study of the earlier SARS virus in the early 2000s found that healthcare workers infected with SARS and that had developed lung lesions still had lesions after 15 years. Many doctors feared this coronavirus could have similar repercussions, but this appears to be less common.18
    • Several countries are running studies tracking COVID-19 patients for as long as 25 years after the onset of their symptoms to learn about the long-term effects of the virus.19

In a Quote:

“I’ve now logged nearly four months of symptoms, with little sign of returning completely to my pre-Covid self. As a physician, I was aware of the concept of post-viral syndromes; as a patient, this concept brings a dismal new meaning, signaling the possibility of a new disease and everything is unknown — especially how long the symptoms will last, and which of them might be permanent.”

—Dr. Yochai Re’em, in an opinion column for STAT.20


References:

  1. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/covidview/index.html
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/fauci-warns-about-post-viral-syndrome-after-covid-19#What-is-post-viral-syndrome-following-COVID-19?
  9. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-long-term-effects/art-20490351
  10. Ibid.
  11. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/07/23/894670842/how-long-will-immunity-to-the-coronavirus-last
  12. https://www.instagram.com/tv/CFFE9ELq6n7/?igshid=d7vbvmoml02v
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2768351
  16. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/07/brain-fog-heart-damage-covid-19-s-lingering-problems-alarm-scientists
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Ibid.
  20. https://www.statnews.com/2020/07/08/my-covid-19-symptoms-lasted-100-plus-days/