MYTH: The vast majority of people recover from COVID-19 without consequences
FACT: There are increasing concerns about long-term complications of COVID-19
By Richard Jefferys
Last updated: August 3, 2020
From the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been misinformation and disinformation circulating regarding the seriousness of the disease. A common fallacy is to compare with seasonal flu, despite the greater risk of hospitalization and death. As more has been learned about COVID-19, the breadth and duration of the potential negative health consequences has become clearer. That hasn’t stopped the President of the U.S. recently claiming erroneously that “99 percent [of cases] are totally harmless.”
The reality is that there are increasing concerns about the potential for long-term complications from COVID-19. A research study published in JAMA reported that 87.4% of 143 participants experienced the persistence of at least one symptom (most commonly fatigue and difficulty breathing) an average of 60 days after the onset of their first symptom. More than half reported persistence of three or more symptoms.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described follow up of individuals with COVID-19 who were never sick enough to be hospitalized, and 35% had not returned to normal health two to three weeks after testing positive. A study in Ireland found that more than half of the 128 participants reported persistent fatigue an average of 10 weeks after initial COVID-19 symptoms.
In addition to these formal reports, many news articles have described similar anecdotes from individuals continuing to experience symptoms long after acute COVID-19, leading to the term “long haulers” to describe the phenomenon.
Studies are also uncovering evidence of persistent organ damage related to the inflammation associated with COVID-19. Recent papers from German researchers revealed a high prevalence of damage to the heart. There are similar concerns about potential long-term neurological problems.
Scientists and advocates are drawing parallels with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, has repeatedly stated to the public that what COVID-19 patients are experiencing is highly suggestive of ME/CFS. Advocates are stressing the importance of supporting and broadening investigation of all possible forms of post-viral illness as part of the COVID-19 research agenda.