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The COVID Symptoms Scaring Doctors Most

Everything to know about Long COVID.

COVID cases are dropping and the surge is peaking in many areas, but the pandemic isn't over. Avoiding the virus is important because it affects people differently. For some, it results in mild illness. For others, it can cause prolonged symptoms and health complications lasting months, which is now referred to as Long COVID. According to Penn State College of Medicine, more than half of the 236 million people diagnosed with COVID-19 since December 2019 will experience post-COVID symptoms up to six months after recovering. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse with The Mesothelioma Center, who explained what we know about Long COVID so far. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is Long COVID?

Woman sleeping on the couch in the living room.

"Long COVID refers to the long-term side effects or complications someone may develop after recovering from a COVID-19 infection," says Marchese. "Many people with mild symptoms recover fully from COVID-19 after a few weeks, especially those who are vaccinated. However, Long COVID may cause some effects to persist for four weeks or more. Long COVID often manifests in older people or those with serious medical conditions but can occur in young, otherwise healthy individuals as well."


How Long Are People With Long COVID Contagious?

Woman being sick having flu lying on sofa looking at temperature on thermometer. Sick woman lying in bed with high fever.

"There is still limited information on how long people with Long COVID remain infectious, but persistent fevers tend to be less common after recovery from COVID-19," says Marchese. "Fevers are a typical indication that someone may be infectious, which is a sign that Long COVID is less infectious after recovery. Current data suggests that people with lingering symptoms may be infectious for up to two weeks after infection, but likely not much longer than that."


At What Point Do You Know You Have Long COVID?

zoom call fatigue

"COVID-19 typically causes shortness of breath, fevers, and general fatigue as its most significant effects," says Marchese. "You will likely know once you start to feel better that you are recovering from COVID. However, some symptoms—such as cough, loss of smell or taste, headaches, nausea, dizziness, and muscle pains—can linger for weeks or months after major symptoms subside. The severity of symptoms will differ for each person, so it's important to seek medical attention if any symptoms persist or worsen more than a few days after they begin."


How Long COVID Happens

Woman suffering from stomach cramps on the sofa at home.

"COVID-19 causes inflammation throughout the body that can damage sensitive tissues in the lungs, kidneys, and heart," says Marchese. "After someone recovers from the initial viral infection, the damage caused by inflammation can still produce symptoms indicative of long-term harm. More research is needed before we fully know how and why COVID-19 affects the body for so long after infection, and why it occurs in some people and not others. Some early reports suggest that a high viral load early in the infection or the presence of certain medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, might increase the risk of Long COVID." 


Who is at Risk for Long COVID


Marchese explains, "Data is still limited on who develops Long COVID and why, but so far the groups have been very diverse. We know that about 20-30% of children who get COVID-19 will have Long COVID, even those who don't present with symptoms but test positive for the virus. In adults, more than half of those diagnosed with COVID-19 will experience Long COVID up to six months after recovering. However, the vaccinations have shown to be incredibly effective at preventing Long COVID and reduces the likelihood of long-term effects by about 90%." 


Potential Long-Term Effects of Long COVID

Doctor and nurse are moving injured patient from an accident on a gurney to the emergency operating room.

"Long-term COVID-19 damage to sensitive organs can lead to potentially life-threatening conditions," says Marchese. "In addition to long-term breathing or heart problems, Long COVID may cause chronic kidney impairment, strokes, and damage to the nervous system in a condition known as Guillain-Barré syndrome. Blood clots are one of the most significant issues for those fighting Long COVID. Clots can affect the brain, lungs, heart, and kidneys, shutting down vital body functions necessary for life. Even small clots can damage capillaries and weaken blood vessels that can cause bleeding in the future." 


How to Stay Safe Out There

Young woman wearing protective mask on a crowded street

Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to live your healthiest life, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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