The shocking number of patients suffering from COVID-19 months after diagnosis

More than nine months since the novel coronavirus set global outbreaks into motion, virologists have identified a troubling community erupting from the ashes.

With growing reports of carriers completing viral clearance yet continuing to showcase symptoms characteristic of coronavirus infection, health systems submitted data for review.

Some of these outliers evidenced permanent lung damage, while others continued to experience fatigue and neuropathies like shaking and tingles. Over time, this increasing minority came to be known as ‘long-haulers.”

Long-haulers denote those infected with SARS-CoV-2 who continue to exhibit symptoms months after their positive test results.

Generally speaking, COVID-19 patients recover with medical intervention after two weeks. Presently, the verdict is mixed on the role pharmaceuticals play in influencing this process. The literature is limited, but increasing steadily in volume.

“The hidden number could be more,” said Dr. Zijian Chen, who directs Mount Sinai’s Center for Post-COVID Care said in a recent release. “We’re looking at patients who are still testing positive day to day, so this is a population that’s going to continue to grow.”

Clinical radiologist, Ali Gholamrezanezhad and his team of researchers at the University of Southern California are currently employing computed tomography (CT) scanning to draft a study on the prevalence of long-haulers among a given population. Dr. Gholamrezanezhad estimates the value to be a little under 10%. Unfortunately the number of total cases has already cleared 29 million.

Although most experts contend that long-term implications will follow those who are disproportionately impacted, it is still unknown if this will be due to invasive treatment measures or the pathogen itself.

Here’s what we know so far.

Symptom Duration and Risk Factors for Delayed Return Among Outpatients with COVID-19

On July 24th, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention formally addressed long-haulers in a public release.

Currently, the organization recognizes the most common symptoms plaguing long-haulers as follows: fatigue (71%), cough (61%), and headache (61%).

The authors theorize that even those with mild-symptoms who have been previously diagnosed with aggravating conditions should seek clinical consultation to seek therapeutics that may increase the likelihood of their symptoms resolving after viral clearance.

“Nonhospitalized COVID-19 illness can result in prolonged illness and persistent symptoms, even in young adults and persons with no or few chronic underlying medical conditions. Public health messaging should target populations that might not perceive COVID-19 illness as being severe or prolonged, including young adults and those without chronic underlying medical conditions,” The CDC reports. “Preventative measures, including social distancing, frequent handwashing, and the consistent and correct use of face coverings in public, should be strongly encouraged to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2.”

With respect to lung scarring, more research needs to be done, but the worst-case scenarios share a robust relationship with critical manifestations of COVID-19. Recently, a preliminary study published in medRxiv observed enduring respiratory effects associated with COVID-19 diagnosis.

“Little is known about long-term recovery from severe COVID-19 disease. Here, we characterize overall health, physical health and mental health of patients one month after discharge for severe COVID-19,” the authors wrote in the paper. “This was a prospective single health system observational cohort study of patients ≥18 years hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 disease who required at least 6 liters of oxygen during admission, had intact baseline cognitive and functional status and were discharged alive.”

Over 70% of participants featured in the paper reported shortness of breath a month after testing positive for Sars-Cov-2. And nearly 14% still required oxygen at home in that same time frame.

With time, medical experts will likely develop measures to mitigate the enduring effects of COVID-19.

In the meantime, we can help contact tracing by volunteering to agencies premised against the erratic pathology of SARS-Cov-2.

“It is difficult to say what we know about COVID-19 in the middle of a pandemic,” explained  Dr. Jose R. Mercado, associate hospital epidemiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.“We have not had the opportunity to study the disease’s long-term effects on people. Reports on potential for long-term consequences have been broad, from blood clots to heart damage, lung damage, and neurological symptoms. While some conditions may be reversible over time, there is growing evidence and concern that some long-term effects from COVID-19 may be irreversible. This underscores the importance of both preventative measures to reduce infections and effective treatments early during the disease course.”