Patients Can Suffer Long-term Effects Months After COVID Recovery, Israeli Report Shows

Coughs, nerve damage, headaches, hair loss and other symptoms remain in about a third of recovered patients

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Magen David Adom paramedics transport a coronavirus patient to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, October 6, 2020.
Magen David Adom paramedics transport a coronavirus patient to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, October 6, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

There is growing evidence that people who have recovered from the coronavirus suffer long-term medical damage, with symptoms continuing long after recovery even in people who had only mild cases, a new report by Israel’s coronavirus information center said.

Reports of this phenomenon, termed “long COVID,” have accumulated in medical literature. The report from the information center, which is under the purview of the Israeli military’s Intelligence Directorate, utilizes these findings. It noted that people who contracted other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, also suffered from prolonged symptoms that sometimes lasted for years, and occasionally proved permanent.

Regarding the current virus, officially known as SARS-CoV-2, any such findings are necessarily still preliminary. But based on data that has been accumulated to date, around a third of recovered patients continue suffering from symptoms, sometimes for months, even after testing negative for the virus.

“Some studies show that around 10 percent of recovered patients with mild cases continue suffering from symptoms for around a month after recovering, and five percent report symptoms even many months later,” the report said. “The symptoms are likely to improve over time, but for some patients, the process may well be cyclical and prolonged.”

These persistent symptoms can affect the nervous system, the cardiovascular system and the respiratory system, and they can also affect a patient’s mental health. A significant portion of recovered patients suffer from severe fatigue even months after recovering, the report said. Other continuing symptoms can include headaches, disrupted sleep, concentration and memory problems, and loss of smell or taste. All of these can affect daily functioning.

In rarer cases, the effects on the nervous system have been dire. In July, a group of British neurologists reported that more than 40 coronavirus patients had suffered complications such as meningitis, delusions, nerve damage or even strokes.

Respiratory problems are the most common symptom of COVID-19. This manifests in “long COVID” as well, in the form of a long-term impact on the respiratory system. A significant portion of recovered patients suffer from breathing problems and a persistent cough after recovering, sometimes for many months. This undermines their physical fitness and stamina. “According to several reports, some recovered patients suffer from scarring (fibrosis) of the lung tissue, whose long-term impact is not yet clear,” the report added.

Cardiovascular damage is also common. “According to various studies, as many as half of all patients suffer from problems in heart function (like cardiac arrhythmia and perimyocarditis) at varying levels of severity, sometimes even unseen,” the report said. “These problems are liable to appear with no connection to preexisting illness or the severity of the coronavirus, even among young patients, and to continue for many months.”

Other problems described in the literature include psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, hair loss, rashes, hearing loss, tinnitus, stomachaches, prolonged diarrhea and an increased risk of developing diabetes.

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