Those with mild Covid-19 symptoms are supposed to recover after two weeks. However, a rising number of relatively young people with mild cases report symptoms months later.
Johns Hopkins Medicine says that those with mild cases of COVID-19 appear to recover within one to two weeks. For severe cases, recovery may take six weeks or more.
But more and more people who have had mild cases are reporting symptoms several months after symptom onset. Some of these long term sufferers, dubbed “long-haulers”, have formed online groups to share their experiences.
Many in these groups are young, highly active – 68% in one were very or moderately active – and were never hospitalised. But their lives have been plagued by rolling waves of symptoms that make it hard to concentrate, exercise, or perform physical tasks.
One long hauler in New York interviewed by The Atlantic said “I’ve been very concerned by friends and family who just aren’t taking this seriously because they think you’re either asymptomatic or dead. This middle ground has been hellish.”
One group organised on Slack by Body Politic has created a report offering a snapshot of the long-hauler experience. The report is based on responses from 640 people. Around 60% are between 30 and 49. 94% were never admitted to hospital. 23% tested positive, 28% tested negative and 50% were not tested, usually because their symptoms were too mild to qualify for a test.
False negative tests are quite common, particularly when done late. In the Body Politic survey, those with negative test results were on average tested a week after those with positive results.
Common lingering symptoms include brain fog, short-term memory loss, headaches, chills and sweats, abnormal heart rates, breathlessness, loss of smell, fatigue, loss of appetite, dry coughing and disturbed sleep. These symptoms tend to come and go in waves.
Similar cases have been reported in Switzerland. Le News has interviewed a number of them who report long term symptoms similar to the Body Politic group.
The newspaper Le Matin, reports on several people in their thirties in Geneva and Lausanne that have lingering symptoms months after infection. Symptoms include loss of smell, breathlessness, coughing, and fatigue. Others report high resting heart rates, headaches, diarrhoea and muscle pain.
A BBC report presents the story of a 28-year old man in Scotland who is still struggling with Covid-19 symptoms after 12 weeks.
These ongoing Covid-19 symptoms mirror a study of 233 Hong Kong residents who survived SARS in 2003. At the 4-year follow-up, around 40% still had chronic-fatigue problems.
Medical professionals have no conclusive explanation for these lingering symptoms. One theory is that while the virus has been beaten by the immune system, having been triggered by it, it fails to switch off.
A commonly reported challenge for long haulers is the dismissive responses they sometimes get from friends and medical professionals who have been convinced by widely published advice that patients with mild symptoms recover after two weeks.
By 16 June 2020, 4.3 million had recovered from Covid-19. But as the experience of these long haulers shows, recovery is not as simple as it might have once seemed. Many of the growing number of recovered patients might only be part way through a longer journey back to normality.