Chronic Fatigue May Be Long-term Effect of COVID-19

Carolyn Crist

August 10, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

A large number of people who contract the coronavirus don't fully recover in a few weeks, and many of them are experiencing chronic fatigue.

More than a third of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have symptoms don't feel like they're back to normal, even weeks later, according to a new CDC report.

"COVID-19 can result in prolonged illness, even among young adults without underlying chronic medical conditions," the CDC COVID-19 Response Team wrote.

About 35% of people surveyed for the study said they weren't back to their "usual state of health," according to the report. Among those between ages 18-34 without prior chronic medical conditions, one in five said they hadn't completely recovered.

Scientists are beginning to study whether the coronavirus may create post-viral issues such as myalgic encephalomyelitis, which is also known as chronic fatigue syndrome. Common symptoms include brain fog, fatigue, pain, immune issues, and malaise after exercise.

Those who are experiencing long-term symptoms after contracting the coronavirus — called the "COVID long-haulers" — are beginning to talk about the months-long issues they've had, according to CNN.

Tens of thousands of people have joined online support groups on social media, private chat channels and special interest websites, where they can talk about their symptoms and what to do as they recover.

Several lawmakers are paying attention, too, and created a bill called the "Understanding COVID-19 Subsets and ME/CFS Act." The proposal would pour $60 million of federal funding into research projects that would help scientists to understand the long-term effects of the coronavirus.

"COVID-19 gives us an unprecedented opportunity to advance our understanding of post-viral disease," Ami Mac, MD, director of translational medicine at Stanford University's Genome Technology Center, told CNN. Mac has chronic fatigue syndrome and researches neuroinflammatory conditions that arise after someone has contracted a virus.

"This could result in a longstanding public health disaster leaving in its wake untold numbers of new sufferers of a condition that feels like a 'living death' for those of us afflicted," she said.

Sources

CDC, "Symptom Duration and Risk Factors for Delayed Return to Usual Health Among Outpatients with COVID-19 in a Multistate Health Care Systems Network."

CNN, "Chronic fatigue syndrome a possible long-term effect of Covid-19, experts say."

Congress, "HR 7057."

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