Long-Term Effects of COVID-19
Christian Verry, MD
The long-term effects of COVID are still being investigated.
Many anecdotal stories exist describing prolonged symptoms and difficulties, known as “the long haulers.” Data from the CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in July of 2020 showed even amongst adults aged 18 and over with relatively mild symptoms, slow recovery was possible.
In a multistate telephone survey of symptomatic adults who had a positive outpatient test for COVID-19, 35% had not returned to their baseline 2-3 weeks after testing. Of this group, 47% were aged 50 or above, 32% were 35-49, and approximately one in five (26%) were 18-34 years old.
In contrast, greater than 90% of those with influenza report returning to their baseline state of health within 2 weeks of a positive test. Amongst the surveyed group cough, fatigue, and headache were the most reported symptoms. After controlling for other factors, age greater than 50 and having 3 or more chronic medical conditions were associated with prolonged recovery.
Less commonly reported but potentially more serious long-term effects include myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), kidney disease, dermatologic (hair loss and rash), persistent loss of taste or smell, memory or concentration difficulties, and changes in mood.
Given this data, it is important to recognize that recovery after COVID infection may take longer than expected even for young and otherwise healthy individuals; and, to screen thoroughly for riskier symptoms that may indicate underlying organ dysfunction.