We are now over two years into the COVID-19 pandemic. While nationwide caseloads, hospitalizations and deaths are trending down and vaccinations among Americans are trending up, it’s not clear whether we will be rid of this virus anytime soon. Nearly 80 million cases of COVID have been recorded in the U.S., with the number of undocumented cases likely much higher.
The virus has had different effects on different people. Some people were asymptomatic, showing almost no effect at all, while others – particularly the elderly or immunocompromised – were completely incapacitated. Most people who contracted the virus fell somewhere in between, and exhibited mild to moderate symptoms not similar to a bad bout of influenza: fatigue, fever, shortness of breath, cough, runny nose, sore throat and body aches. Depending on severity of symptoms and when treatment began, as well as their vaccination status, symptoms typically subsided for most people within two weeks.
COVID effects linger for some unlucky people
Not everyone has been so fortunate, however. For some people who recover from an initial, acute case of COVID, additional health complications arise and persist for months, steadily wreaking havoc on their bodies. In these cases, the COVID virus is no longer active in their body (a test for the virus will come back negative), nor can they transmit it to others, yet they may be debilitated all the same. This has come to be termed as post-COVID syndrome, or more commonly, “long COVID,” with those who suffer being referred to as “long haulers.”
Symptoms of long COVID can be respiratory, but the underlying causes run much deeper and can possibly be permanent – in a case of long COVID, shortness of breath can be caused by significant scarring and other problems in the lungs, or possibly heart inflammation. Since the COVID virus affects cells in the nasal pathways, senses of smell and taste can be permanently altered or lost completely.
Some of the effects of long COVID are less obvious, but more insidious. Patients can experience neurological symptoms, such as memory loss, brain fog and other difficulties focusing or concentrating. Anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are also frequently reported.
Much remains unknown about long COVID, including just how long symptoms will last. It is well-known, however, that its lingering effects can have a catastrophic impact on patients, crushing not only their health, but their finances. In addition to the unforeseen health care costs, including for recurring hospital visits to treat ongoing health problems, it may reach a point where symptoms become so severe that full- or even part-time work is no longer an option.
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