During Senate testimony on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, spotlighted a disturbing lesson experts have learned from the coronavirus pandemic: For some people, COVID-19 has essentially become a chronic illness.
"I bring to your attention the fact that a number of individuals who virologically have recovered from infection in fact have persistent, measured in weeks to months of symptomatology that does not appear to be due to persistence of the virus," he said. "They're referred to as long haulers."
Fauci then named some of the symptoms most commonly experienced by long haulers. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Fauci has mentioned this symptom in previous interviews, likening it to chronic fatigue syndrome. "We're starting to see more and more people who apparently recover from the actual viral part of it, and then weeks later, they feel weak, they feel tired, they feel sluggish, they feel short of breath," he said in August. "It's very disturbing, because if this is true for a lot of people, then just recovering from this may not be okay. You may have weeks where you feel not exactly correct."
COVID causes inflammation throughout the body, which can result in myalgia, or muscle pain, that lingers. In the COVID-19 Long Hauler Symptoms Survey Report released by the Indiana University School of Medicine in July, muscle pain was the #2 most reported symptom among long haulers; nearly two-thirds of respondents said they continued to experience it.
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Fever is a hallmark symptom of coronavirus infection, but it can also stick around after you've recovered. In the Long Haulers Symptom Survey, 441 of 1,567 respondents said they had fever that was ongoing.
In August, a study published in the Lancet found that 55% of people diagnosed with coronavirus have neurological symptoms three months after their diagnosis. These can include confusion, personality changes, insomnia and loss of taste and/or smell.
During the hearing, Fauci mentioned that some people with long COVID experience the inability to concentrate. Also known as "brain fog," it's commonly reported by COVID patients; scientists think virus-caused inflammation in the brain may be responsible.
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"We found to our dismay that a number of individuals who have completely recovered and apparently are asymptomatic, when they have sensitive imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance, imaging, or MRI, have found to have a disturbing number of individuals who have inflammation of the heart," said Fauci.
He added that the long haul phenomenon reminds us that there's much we still don't know about COVID-19. "These are the kinds of things that tell us, we must be humble and that we do not completely understand the nature of this illness," said Fauci.
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How to Stay Healthy
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.