LOS ANGELES -- A recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that a large percentage of people who contract the novel coronavirus experience a prolonged symptom duration.
It’s the first acknowledgment of its kind from the CDC, with the authors of the report noting that “disability are common in adults hospitalized with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”
"COVID-19 can result in prolonged illness even among persons with milder outpatient illness, including young adults," the CDC report's authors wrote.
According to the report, fatigue and prolonged cough are the most common symptoms that appear to persist.
During a telephone survey conducted across the country in which symptomatic adults who had a positive outpatient test result for the novel coronavirus, 35% said they did not return to their usual state of health when interviewed nearly a month after testing.
“Among persons aged 18–34 years with no chronic medical conditions, one in five had not returned to their usual state of health,” the CDC wrote.
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Acknowledgement from the CDC on these types of prolonged conditions has been long awaited by a large number of people who have reported experiencing coronavirus symptoms that seem to persist for months.
Since the first reported cases of COVID-19, several support groups have emerged on Facebook consisting of thousands of members calling themselves “long haul survivors.”
“Today is day 93,” said Amy Watson, a preschool teacher who lives in Portland, Oregon as she shared a photograph of her thermometer that read 100.3 on June 18. She first tested positive for COVID-19 on April 11, after falling ill with flu-like symptoms in mid-March.
She and many other “long haul” survivors have experienced confusion and frustration and have said that many medical workers who have treated them have been left with their hands in the air, after their symptoms did not seem to subside.
In an interview regarding recent increases in coronavirus cases in the U.S., Dr. Tom Tsai, a surgeon and health policy researcher at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said he had not heard of stories like Amy’s, most likely because “we are still in the midst of it.”
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“I don’t think we have enough clinical or medical data,” said Tsai. “I haven’t seen anything in the medical literature about the long-term consequences from COVID infections, and that is probably just because it’s only been six months since COVID reared its head.”
Tsai added that while most disease models suggest that people recover from the virus from a transmissibility standpoint, there is not enough information to understand the long-term effects of the novel coronavirus in terms of symptoms, calling instances like Watson’s and other “long haul survivors,” a “legitimate concern.”
“It’s important to study that , the hard part is that COVID symptoms are so vague, and it’s so variable,” said Tsai. “People dying, people in the ICU, people who have almost no symptoms, that’s part of the challenge of the pandemic is that its effect is so variable across populations, across different demographic groups, different ages."
“I think it’s too early to know whether this is truly people who may be at risk for a longer disease course,” Tsai said.
Rishi Rattan, a trauma surgeon at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami-Dade County, said he has seen cases of patients reporting symptoms of COVID-19 that just won’t seem to go away.
Rattan said his team is noticing that survivors are dealing with long-term effects and a difficult time recovering from the virus. “Even if people survive and they were healthy before, they’re not surviving this in a healthy way and that’s very concerning,” Rattan said.
Rattan said one-in-four to one-in-five patients are experiencing long-term, serious side effects — including difficulty breathing and organ failure.
"A couple months ago, I couldn't tell you that, if you're a survivor of coronavirus, that you're going to have long-term effects that may turn into lifelong disabilities, but that's new information that we have now, and that we're trying to get out to the public," Rattan said.
"Still problems breathing, not being able to return to sports or running if that's something they did, not being able to be as active, being short of breath, and not being able to catch their breath just going from the couch to the bathroom," he continued. "And we don't know how long these problems will last, but they could be lifelong."