Five percent of people who get COVID-19 will become critically ill. These people will need to be hospitalized. Approximately, 10-15% of infected people will have severe disease. Typically, people will recover from a COVID-19 infection after 2 to 6 weeks. These individuals will usually receive out-patient treatment but will go to the hospital for periodic testing until they test negative for the virus. The shocking news however is that scientists are now finding that some people may have to live with symptoms of COVID-19 that linger on even after they have tested negative for the SARS-COV-2 virus. Researchers have found long-term health symptoms that affect the lungs, heart, the immune system, and even the brain.
Why do these symptoms linger? What do they mean for the patient? What does this mean for employers and employees? We will answer those questions in this blog post.
Lingering symptoms after a COVID-19 infection
According to a multi-state phone study that surveyed 274 US adults, the following symptoms lingered after the individual had a COVID-19 infection.
- Cough/congestion/shortness of breath
- Loss of taste or smell
- Body aches
- Chest or abdominal pain
Interestingly, this was true even for young adults in the 18-34 age range who did not have any pre-existing or chronic health conditions.
Why do these symptoms linger on even after a person has tested negative for COVID-19 following an infection?
Because COVID-19 is a new disease, scientists are still learning so much about it and SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes the disease. And so currently, there is no clear cut explanation for why this may happen.
However, it is now clear that a negative COVID-19 test after infection doesn’t mean a person has fully recovered from the disease – even if they are young and have no history of chronic illness.
The organs in your body affected by COVID-19 may explain some of the long-term symptoms
Researchers at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles found lung damage (via CT scans) in one-third of patients who had cleared the infection. Lung damage could lead to reduced capacity for the lungs to take in oxygen which may then account for shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain.
It’s important however to remember that COVID-19 doesn’t just affect the lungs. It can affect the heart, the immune system (the body’s defense mechanism), and the brain.
In other studies, researchers have reported how SARS-COV-2 causes a Multiple sclerosis-like illness. Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the “insulation” around a person’s nerves (think of an electrical wire that is exposed versus one that has rubber insulation) are gradually destroyed.
For now, it does seem like with treatment, some of those symptoms go away. But for people who have severe to critical COVID-19 illness, this presents some real long-term problems.
What does this mean for employers/employees?
For someone recovering from an active COVID-19 infection or someone who has tested negative after COVID-19, it is important to still take care of yourself. It is especially important to watch out for those lingering symptoms. As far as researchers and doctors can tell right now, early treatment might help.
For employers, it is important to take note that an employee who may have been cleared of a COVID-19 infection might have lingering symptoms. These might keep them out of work and reduce their productive days. And for the person who has not contracted the virus, it is still important to wear masks, social distance, and practice hand washing.
Even if you never get a severe form of the disease, the chances of spreading it to somebody who might, is still high.