“I feel like an old person; I’m only 46,” a bank examiner from Brooklyn, told the New York Post recently. “I don’t wish this on my worst enemy.” She contracted the virus March 23, and still experiences body aches, hot flashes, arthritis and her hair has been falling out in clumps.
As some people toss around phrases like “herd immunity” (the notion that the virus should spread through the population to eventually produce a general immunity) and blithely attend “covid parties” hoping to achieve the same effect, our concierge doctors thought we’d explore one of the lesser-known risks involved in that type of thinking.
Many of those who survived the disease are beginning to speak out about the long-term effects they’re still experiencing months later.
Shelby Hedgecock first tested positive for COVID-19 in April, negative in May. Nevertheless, she tells CNN she is still having neurological issues, cognitive issues, shortness of breath, chest pain, loss of smell, and body aches and pains that send her to bed for days if she participates in even the gentlest forms of yoga.
“[My symptoms are] just all over the place, and I’m insanely tired,” she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo recently. Cuomo, who also contracted COVID-19 early in the pandemic, reports similar lingering coronavirus symptoms.
Amy Watson, 47, of Portland, Oregon, appears to have been responsible for introducing the phrase “long hauler” which is now attached to the syndrome. Now in her sixth month of dealing with such coronavirus symptoms as painful burning sensations on her arms, torso, head and neck, she created a COVID-19 patient support group called Long Haul COVID Fighters.
Strange debilitating symptoms
Survivors on numerous online COVID-19 support groups describe a constellation of nearly 100 lingering symptoms.
Natalie Lambert, an associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, surveyed more than 1,500 members of a group called Survivor Corps.
“They’re not quite sick enough to be hospitalized, but they are suffering from very severe symptoms, sometimes for a very long time at home,” she told NBC News.
Respondents to her survey reported 98 different coronavirus symptoms they’d experienced since their diagnosis, including:
- joint pain
- shortness of breath
- memory impairment
- cognitive difficulties
- sleep disturbances
- vision problems
Alexandra Plazas-Herrera, 41, told the Post she suffered bleeding from her nail beds and the skin was peeling off her face a few months after catching COVID-19.
“It was super weird, like horror movie stuff,” she said, adding that she has also experienced a lingering fever, fatigue, persistent brain fog, poor coordination and inability to concentrate.
Many of those who report chronic symptoms had only mild or moderate cases of COVID-19; most were not serious enough to be hospitalized. A large number of them report they were healthy and “in the prime of their lives” before becoming infected. The syndrome also appears to affect all ages.
How common is this?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a survey in July of 292 people who had tested positive for the virus. It found 35 percent of respondents had not returned to their previous state of health. Other surveys, mainly in Europe, put the incidence as high as 80 percent.
Twenty percent of those in the CDC survey were between the ages of 18 and 34 with no prior chronic medical conditions.
“Data categorically show it’s a real thing,” David Putrino, a doctor of neuroscience and the Director of Rehabilitation Innovation at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, told ABC News. “These individuals are experiencing fatigue, dizziness, nausea, GI symptoms, pain . . . in the spine and chest.”
No one knows yet how long these troubling coronavirus symptoms will last; some survivors report early symptoms receding and being replaced with new ones.
Because the virus is still so new, medical science as yet has no answers for these people.
Jake Goldenstein, 20, still can’t walk down the street without becoming completely winded. He also suffers from debilitating headaches, digestive issues, congested sinuses and a racing heart.
“They gave me all types of medications. I was on a nebulizer, I was on multiple inhalers, they gave me multiple [antibacterial] medications, literally all types of medications,” the former hiker and baseball player told the Post. “None of them really seem to help.”
Lea Lane, a travel writer for Forbes caught COVID-19 in March. She’s seen pulmonologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists, vascular specialists and neurologists. She reports her new primary care doctor told her she has “post-viral syndrome,” and “hopefully it will someday go away.”
If you experience lingering symptoms of COVID-19 infection, of course we will do our best to help manage them. But for now, our best advice is to avoid becoming infected in the first place:
- avoid places with large crowds, especially indoors
- always wear a face covering in public
- wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds
Remember the primary means of transmission appears to be aerosolized virus particles emitted—including by those showing no symptoms—when talking, laughing, coughing, singing or just breathing. These aerosols can linger in the air for many minutes or even hours. So never go any place where you don’t feel safe.