Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

COVID-19 Can Last for Several Months

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Ed Yong writes in the Atlantic:

For Vonny LeClerc, day one was March 16.

Hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson instated stringent social-distancing measures to halt the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, LeClerc, a Glasgow-based journalist, arrived home feeling shivery and flushed. Over the next few days, she developed a cough, chest pain, aching joints, and a prickling sensation on her skin. After a week of bed rest, she started improving. But on day 12, every old symptom returned, amplified and with reinforcements: She spiked an intermittent fever, lost her sense of taste and smell, and struggled to breathe.

When I spoke with LeClerc on day 66, she was still experiencing waves of symptoms. “Before this, I was a fit, healthy 32-year-old,” she said. “Now I’ve been reduced to not being able to stand up in the shower without feeling fatigued. I’ve tried going to the supermarket and I’m in bed for days afterwards. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.” Despite her best efforts, LeClerc has not been able to get a test, but “every doctor I’ve spoken to says there’s no shadow of a doubt that this has been COVID,” she said. Today is day 80.

COVID-19 has existed for less than six months, and it is easy to forget how little we know about it. The standard view is that a minority of infected people, who are typically elderly or have preexisting health problems, end up in critical care, requiring oxygen or a ventilator. About 80 percent of infections, according to the World Health Organization, “are mild or asymptomatic,” and patients recover after two weeks, on average. Yet support groups on Slack and Facebook host thousands of people like LeClerc, who say they have been wrestling with serious COVID-19 symptoms for at least a month, if not two or three. Some call themselves “long-termers” or “long-haulers.”

I interviewed nine of them for this story, all of whom share commonalities. Most have never been admitted to an ICU or gone on a ventilator, so their cases technically count as “mild.” But their lives have nonetheless been flattened by relentless and rolling waves of symptoms that make it hard to concentrate, exercise, or perform simple physical tasks. Most are young. Most were previously fit and healthy. “It is mild relative to dying in a hospital, but this virus has ruined my life,” LeClerc said. “Even reading a book is challenging and exhausting. What small joys other people are experiencing in lockdown—yoga, bread baking—are beyond the realms of possibility for me.”

Even though the world is consumed by concern over COVID-19, the long-haulers have been largely left out of the narrative and excluded from the figures that define the pandemic. I can pull up an online dashboard that reveals the numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and recoveries—but LeClerc falls into none of those categories. She and others are trapped in a statistical limbo, uncounted and thus overlooked.

Some have been diagnosed through tests, while others, like LeClerc, have been told by their doctors that they almost certainly have COVID-19. Still, many long-haulers have faced disbelief from friends and medical professionals because they don’t conform to the typical profile of the disease. People have questioned how they could possibly be so sick for so long, or whether they’re just stressed or anxious. “It feels like no one understands,” said Chloe Kaplan from Washington, D.C., who works in education and is on day 78. “I don’t think people are aware of the middle ground, where it knocks you off your feet for weeks, and you neither die nor have a mild case.”

The notion that most cases are mild and brief bolsters the belief that only the sick and elderly need isolate themselves, and that everyone else can get infected and be done with it. “It establishes a framework in which ‘not hiding’ from the disease looks a manageable and sensible undertaking,” writes Felicity Callard, a geographer at the University of Glasgow, who is on day 77. As the pandemic discourse turns to talk of a second wave, long-haulers who are still grappling with the consequences of the first wave are frustrated. “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,” said Hannah Davis, an artist from New York City, who is on day 71. “This middle ground has been hellish.”

It “has been like nothing else on Earth,” said Paul Garner, who has previously endured dengue fever and malaria, and is currently on day 77 of COVID-19. Garner, an infectious-diseases professor at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, leads a renowned organization that reviews scientific evidence on preventing and treating infections. He tested negative on day 63. He had waited to get a COVID-19 test partly to preserve them for health-care workers, and partly because, at one point, he thought he was going to die. “I knew I had the disease; it couldn’t have been anything else,” he told me. I asked him why he thought his symptoms had persisted. “I honestly don’t know,” he said. “I don’t understand what’s happening in my body.”

On march 17, a day after LeClerc came down with her first symptoms, SARS-CoV-2 sent Fiona Lowenstein to the hospital. Nine days later, after she was discharged, she started a Slack support group for people struggling with the disease. The group, which is affiliated with a wellness organization founded by Lowenstein called Body Politic, has been a haven for long-haulers. One channel for people whose symptoms have lasted longer than 30 days has more than 3,700 members.

“The group was a savior for me,” said Gina Assaf, a design consultant in Washington, D.C., who is now on day 77. She and other members with expertise in research and survey design have now sampled 640 people from the Body Politic group and beyond. Their report is neither representative nor peer-reviewed, but it provides a valuable snapshot of the long-hauler experience.

Of those surveyed, about three in five are between the ages of 30 and 49. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2020 at 3:44 pm

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