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Can COVID-19 Symptoms Last for Weeks?

Fatigue, headache, cough, shortness of breath and other COVID-19 symptoms last for weeks or even months after recovery in some people.

After a recovery, how long do COVID-19 symptoms last? Although we are now about ten months into this pandemic, we simply don’t have enough information to answer that question definitively. Researchers are still learning about “long COVID.” That’s the name that has been given to symptoms that persist weeks or months after people seemingly recover from the worst of COVID-19.

However, there are indications that many people suffer for weeks and some unlucky ones may struggle with symptoms for months. Researchers from around the world (Korea, Switzerland and the US) have reported on these troubling complications.

Evidence on How Long COVID-19 Symptoms Last in Korea:

A study of 965 individuals in South Korea suggests that 9 out of 10 people who recover from COVID-19 report symptoms weeks later. (The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency is preparing the results of this online survey for publication.) More than a fourth of the respondents said they are troubled with fatigue. Almost as many are having difficulties concentrating. While disappearance of the senses of both taste and smell suggest a possible COVID-19 diagnosis, these symptoms may also linger after a person is no longer infected.

COVID-19 Symptoms Last Weeks in the US:

The US CDC has also noted that people may experience fever, chills, muscle pain, and heart inflammation, known as cardiomyopathy, up to three weeks following recovery. The agency conducted a telephone survey of 292 individuals who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 two to three weeks earlier. Among respondents, 35 percent said they were not yet back to their previous state of health. In addition, 94 percent described at least one symptom that was still troubling them. (This proportion is quite similar to that identified by the KDCPA.) They named cough, shortness of breath and fatigue as continuing symptoms. Many also reported recurrent or long-lasting headache symptoms.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 can cause lasting health problems even among younger people and those who had mild cases. Although 47 percent of older people (over 50) report that their COVID-19 symptoms last for weeks or even months, 26 percent of young people between 18 and 34 years old were still suffering two to three weeks later. In comparison, 32 percent of those between 35 and 49 had long-lasting health problems.

Different from the Flu:

By way of comparison, more than 90 percent of people diagnosed with influenza last year had returned to their baseline health status within two weeks. To state the obvious, COVID-19 is not the flu.

COVID-19 Symptoms Last Months in Michigan:

A study of long-haulers published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports on COVID patients discharged from Michigan hospitals (Annals of Internal Medicine, Nov.11, 2020). Two months after leaving the hospital, many of these patients were still combatting shortness of breath and cough. Many had trouble going back to work and almost half reported mental health problems associated with long COVID. The researchers concluded that adverse events long after infection with SARS-CoV-2 are common.

Long COVID Reported from Switzerland:

A team of scientists from Geneva tracked around 669 people who had tested positive for the coronavirus (Annals of Internal Medicine, Dec. 8, 2020). Most were never so ill that they required hospitalization. Two thirds had no prior health problems. Their average age was 43. Even after they appeared to recover from the acute attack, about one third complained of long-lasting symptoms such as breathing difficulties, cough, fatigue and a loss of taste or smell. The authors conclude that COVID-19 “can persist and result in prolonged illness.” Research into this post-COVID condition will be required along with effective treatment programs.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Tenforde MW et al, "Symptom duration and risk factors for delayed return to usual health among outpatients with COVID-19 in a multistate health care systems network — United States, March–June 2020." MMWR, July 31, 2020. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6930e1
  • Chopra V et al, "Sixty-day outcomes among patients hospitalized with COVID-19." Annals of Internal Medicine, Nov.11, 2020. https://doi.org/10.7326/M20-5661
  • Nehme M et al, "COVID-19 symptoms: Longitudinal evolution and persistence in outpatient settings." Annals of Internal Medicine, Dec. 8, 2020. https://doi.org/10.7326/M20-5926
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