Now that the novel coronavirus has been spreading in human populations for nearly a year, scientists are finally starting to get a better understanding of the long-term health implications for those who contract the disease, according to a new study published in the BMJ.
In the short term, COVID-19 sufferers can have symptoms ranging from a fever to the loss of their senses of taste and smell to rashes to nausea. For some people, the situation doesn't improve much as time goes on. Though the shortness of breath and fevers fade, many people experience complications that persist long-term, as Raw Story reported.
"Many are dealing with symptoms weeks or months after they were expected to recover, often with puzzling new complications that can affect the entire body—severe fatigue, cognitive issues and memory lapses, digestive problems, erratic heart rates, headaches, dizziness, fluctuating blood pressure, even hair loss," the publication noted.
While the novel coronavirus seems to initially impact the lungs, it moves throughout the body, eventually impacting the heart, kidneys, nervous system, and digestive system. Doctors are calling the phenomenon "post-acute COVID" or "chronic COVID." The term applies to anyone who has continued to experience symptoms for 12 weeks after being diagnosed. One of the surprising things about the long-term condition is that it isn't limited to people who originally had a severe case of the disease.
This suggests that the idea that most people recover and move on from the disease within two weeks may be false. Although the numbers aren't clear yet, it seems that about 10 percent of adults under the age of 49 continue to experience symptoms as much as four weeks later. About 2.3 percent continue to have symptoms for more than 12 weeks.
A different study found that about 25 percent of people were still ill after 90 days.
Trisha Greenhalgh, a professor of primary care at the University of Oxford and the lead author of the study, weighed in on the findings.
"Usually, the patients with bad disease are most likely to have persistent symptoms, but COVID doesn't work like that," she said.
"I haven't really seen any other illness that affects so many different organ systems in as many different ways as Covid does," one doctor said.
Some patients, who call themselves "long haulers" or "long-COVID" patients, say that the original disease isn't as bad as the ongoing symptoms.
"You don't realize how lucky you are with your health until you don't have it," said 43-year-old Elizabeth Moore.
She lost nearly 30 pounds and has been sick for months despite being healthy -- regularly attending fitness classes and skiing -- before contracting the virus.
So far, the United States has seen over nine million cases of the disease, with 46.6 million worldwide.