COVID-19 is like nothing we’ve ever previously encountered. It’s surprised the medical community at every turn while also devastating families and communities with its host of unexpected symptoms and high death rate. Aside from mortality, one of the most concerning outcomes might not even present until after the infection has already cleared.
An increasing number of people are facing long-haul COVID-19, and we’re only beginning to understand what that means and why it occurs. Here’s what we have so far.
Some of those who’ve had COVID-19 have been anything but over it long after they’ve cleared the virus, with lingering fatigue and neurological symptoms being the most prominent complaints. Many sufferers also experience continued shortness of breath, fevers, gastrointestinal problems, difficulty sleeping and some even face psychological manifestations like anxiety and depression. These symptoms can put lives on hold for several months — or even years. The truth is, we just don't know how long it may last, yet.
COVID-19 wouldn’t be the first infection to cause this complication. Experts have researched numerous viruses in connection to cases of chronic fatigue syndrome. Lyme disease, a bacterial infection, has been the center of a decades-long effort to treat and diagnose the disease that revolves around severe post-infection symptoms, and the sentiments are strikingly similar: A subset of patients experience persistent fatigue and a handful of other vague but debilitating symptoms, and researchers are still trying to work out why that is.
In the case of chronic Lyme disease symptoms, fragments of the bacteria may persist in certain tissues even after the infection has cleared, according to Harvard Medical School. In some people, the presence of certain proteins from the bacteria can trigger an overactive immune response, which may lead to autoimmune-type symptoms. A similar mechanism could be taking place in the long-haul COVID-19 sufferers.
We may be able to shed additional light on long-haul symptoms by looking at a different coronavirus that only infects cats, feline coronavirus (FCoV). Most cats that contract this disease have asymptomatic infections that clear without issue, but a subset develops chronic conditions. These cases may progress to a deadly form, known as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), which appears to be due to viral mutations. A look at how FCoV and other pathogens mutate in chronic cases could provide more clues into other possible causes of long-haul COVID-19 symptoms.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently launched its own investigation into the matter. The agency is taking two separate approaches in its research. First, they’re scouring patient records, comparing symptoms, treatments and recovery rates in known COVID-19 sufferers. Second, they’re looking at different types of biological evidence to understand the damage some long-haulers may be suffering to the brain and other vital organs. The data they collect may help to clarify more specifics on this troublesome new condition.
Long-haul COVID-19 is still a new phenomenon, but with research on other chronic infections, answers could be in sight. To those struggling with this problem, we would urge you to know that some of the greatest minds in the country are working on it. And there's every reason to hope that we may soon have treatment if not answers.
Copyright 2021, Wellness.com