Why Long COVID Might Not Be As Unusual As You Thought

When the novel coronavirus outbreak began in December of 2019, patients reportedly experienced symptoms like fever and shortness of breath (per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Since then, experts have gained a greater understanding of the disease and its symptoms. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, COVID-19 symptoms can range from nonexistent to severe, and appear anywhere from a few days to two weeks after exposure to the virus. The list of symptoms has expanded significantly from the original reports of fever and shortness of breath, and include — but are not limited to — aches, cough, chills, trouble breathing, fatigue, loss of smell or taste, or a sore throat. Mild symptoms may last for one or two weeks, while severe symptoms could persist for months.

In November of 2020, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, discussed the long-term effects of COVID-19 (per American Journal of Managed Care). Fauci mentioned that symptoms like shortness of breath, intermittent fever, and even brain fog could persist for months. The experience of symptoms for weeks or months after contracting COVID-19 became generally known as "long COVID." It turns out that long COVID is quite common. Here's are some things you might not have known about long COVID.

Long COVID affects millions of Americans

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 20% of American adults who have had COVID-19 are currently experiencing symptoms of long COVID. Long COVID symptoms can stop or return. Researchers believe that long COVID could be caused by a few factors. One theory is that a lack of blood flow from damaged cells and tissues might keep the symptoms going (per Science). Other theories focus on how the virus persists after the infection passes or how the immune system fails to fully recover. Radiological imaging studies have confirmed tissue inflammation, nerve damage, and blood clots in some patients with lingering symptoms (per EurekAlert!). Some researchers view these three factors as related, creating a "triangle" of triggers (via Science).

According to WebMD, long COVID also shares similarities to another disease that causes overwhelming fatigue. Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a disease that affects different parts of the body and notably can onset after an infection — like a viral infection (per New York State Department of Health). WebMD also notes that ME/CFS and long COVID share other common symptoms like brain fog, dizziness, and poor sleep. The similarities between the diseases are bringing ME/CFS more awareness, as many people with long COVID may satisfy the criteria of ME/CFS. As a result, several bills on long COVID that are currently pending in Congress have added language that also addresses other post-infectious chronic illnesses like ME/CFS.