By Roger Chriss, PNN Columnist The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is still mysterious. Although some people experience severe or even life-threatening illness, others only have a mild course and may even be asymptomatic. But emerging evidence is showing that recovery from Covid-19 may be more complicated and include long-term health consequences. The CDC recently expanded its list of Covid-19 symptoms to include chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and the loss of taste or smell. These symptoms generally start within five days of infection and may last for several weeks before resolution.
WebMD reports that for people with severe or critical cases “recovery can take up to six weeks.” Symptoms during that time can include severe fatigue and shortness of breath, making everyday activities like taking a walk or doing laundry a struggle. Coronavirus patients who were hospitalized describe poor memory and extreme muscle weakness, often needing supplemental oxygen and physical assistance to perform basic daily tasks such as using a bathroom or getting dressed. For people who require ICU care, recovery can take even longer. NPR reports that some COVID-19 survivors never recover completely and suffer from a condition known as post-intensive-care-unit syndrome, which can cause muscle wasting, organ damage, memory loss and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
"Unfortunately, oftentimes when they're coming off the ventilator, it's not the same person who went on the ventilator," one doctor explained. All of this is exacerbated for people who are older and have preexisting health conditions. Recovery from any viral illness can be much harder for such people. One mathematical model predicts up to 94,000 Americans aged 65 and older who have hypertension, cardiovascular problems or lung disease could be hospitalized with Covid-19 from April to June, 2020.
As often happens with acute viral illness, there are long term consequences with Covid-19. Already there are reports of a link between the coronavirus and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder involving rapid-onset muscle weakness caused by the immune system damaging the peripheral nervous system. There are also concerns that Covid-19 may cause a wave of neurological illness. Gizmodo reports that on rare occasion, Covid-19 patients have developed brain swelling, strokes and seizures. Researchers are scrambling to understand the effects of Covid-19 on the brain. Cases of the rare disorder necrotizing hemorrhagic encephalopathy have been reported, according to Wired. Some patients are experiencing loss of smell or taste, though why and for how long remains unclear. Anxiety, insomnia, and possibly even PTSD are being seen as well. And there is emerging evidence that Covid-19 can also impact heart health. According to Kaiser Health News, a study found cardiac damage in as many as 1 in 5 patients, leading to heart failure and death even for those who have no respiratory problems. It is clear at this point that Covid-19 is far more serious than a seasonal cold or flu. To date, the pandemic has led to over 55,000 deaths and nearly one million confirmed cases in the U.S.
Hospitals are trying to use artificial intelligenceto predict patient outcomes, and researchers are struggling to better understand the full course of the illness. But there is a lot about the coronavirus that remains unknown.
Roger Chriss lives with Ehlers Danlos syndrome and is a proud member of theEhlers-Danlos Society. Roger is a technical consultant in Washington state, where he specializes in mathematics and research.