A Mayo Clinic expert speculated that Long COVID symptoms might last for more than a year in some coronavirus patients.
The doctor referenced a similar experience for patients infected with SARS who continued to experience symptoms of the illness after clearing the virus.
Doctors still can’t explain what causes Long COVID, but an increasing number of coronavirus survivors experience ongoing symptoms for weeks to months after the initial infection.
Typically, people suffering from pre-existing conditions and the elderly risk severe COVID-19 complications. But there are exceptions, and there’s no guarantee that a younger patient will fare any better. For example, researchers have recently discovered that some people may be suffering from genetic conditions that impact interferon functions without knowing about it. The imbalance becomes evident once infected with COVID-19, at which point lives can be endangered.
Doctors are saving many more lives than in the early months of the pandemic, having devised new treatment protocols for severe cases. A variety of drugs can keep the immune response at bay as the virus clears, and more people will eventually walk out of the hospital than before. But clearing the virus from the system isn’t the same as being cured. An increasingly large number of people who survive the illness develop so-called Long COVID, a chronic version of the illness where a wide variety of symptoms can appear for a long time after the infection is gone from the body. Long haulers have gone through weeks and months of Long COVID, with a few of them having reported symptoms for nine months. Doctors have no idea how these annoying coronavirus symptoms can last, but we do have an informed guess on record, and it’s not entirely good news.
We might not how long these ongoing COVID-19 symptoms can last thanks to speculation from Mayo Clinic occupational medicine specialist Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn, who spoke to CNBC about the condition.
Vanichkachorn compared COVID-19 to SARS, the precursor of the current coronavirus. The SARS epidemic in 2003 led to similar symptoms, including long-haulers, who needed months to recover fully.
The Mayo Clinic expert who has seen more than 100 Long COVID patients said he wouldn’t be “too shocked” if some COVID-19 long-haulers would require just as much time as SARS survivors.
SARS patients improved, “but it took quite a bit of time, sometimes even more than a year for them to recover their function.”
Scientists often compare SARS and SARS-CoV-2, and it’s usually because of immunity. Findings have shown that SARS patients still have immunity to the virus 17 years later. It’s still too early to verify these expected similarities, whether it’s immunity or chronic manifestations.
Doctors can’t explain why some people experience continued COVID-19 symptoms after clearing the virus. But more research on the matter is being done as a large proportion of patients might need ongoing treatment of symptoms. A study from Switzerland said recently that as many as 1 in 3 COVID-19 survivors could experience Long COVID. Around 70 million people have received positive COVID-19 diagnoses so far this year, and the number of actual infections might be a few times larger than that. The percentage of long-haulers would be significant if the Swiss research is representative of the global population.
Vanichkachorn explained that there’s no explanation for the phenomenon, and genetics isn’t a factor. “I can’t say there’s a genetic basis for the differences in the outcomes,” he said. “We, of course, have seen patients who have had more severe cases of Covid, like those patients being in the ICU or the hospital or patients of advanced age, being more likely to come down with post-Covid syndrome.”
The expert added that it’s not those who survived severe COVID-19 who are more likely to continue experiencing symptoms. “I think one of the real startling things about this is that those kind of patients, hospitalized patients or the elderly, don’t make up the majority of the patients we have been seeing,” Vanichkachorn added. “In fact, many of the patients we are seeing are younger in age and are quite healthy and physically fit before their Covid infection. So, unfortunately, it does seem like this is something anybody can come down with after their infection.”
Symptoms, including shortness of breath, short-term memory loss, and concentration issues, are common in Long COVID — and the list of symptoms includes a variety of puzzling manifestations. But the most common symptom is fatigue, according to the Mayo expert.
“It’s not just like any fatigue, like the fatigue we get from a bad night of sleep but rather profound fatigue,” he said. “Patients will say that doing something as simple as taking a dog for a walk, going up a flight of steps in their home, can often result in them needing to take a nap or a rest for several hours afterwards.”
The doctor advised patients to take their time to recover if symptoms linger. “Their recovery may be longer, and if they are too tired or fatigued, they really need to listen to their bodies and pace themselves,” he said.
There’s no way to tell whether Long COVID can last over a year right now, but that data will be available in the coming months as more time passes. Similarly, there’s no way to tell whether Long COVID symptoms will pass after a year. If there’s any country that could already provide that answer, that’s China, which registered the first COVID-19 cases in late 2019.
The only sure way to ensure you don’t get Long COVID is to avoid being infected in the first place.
Chris Smith started writing about gadgets as a hobby, and before he knew it he was sharing his views on tech stuff with readers around the world. Whenever he’s not writing about gadgets he miserably fails to stay away from them, although he desperately tries. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.