COVID-19: What we know about the long-term health effects of the new coronavirus

What are the potential long-term effects of having COVID-19?

COVID-19: What we know about the long-term health effects of the new coronavirus
This image released by Northwestern Medicine, shows nurses at the Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago - Photo: Laura Brown/AFP
English 01/08/2020 13:41 Mexico City Miranda Perea/EL UNIVERSAL in English & AP Actualizada 13:44

What are the potential long-term effects of having COVID-19?

It is hard to say exactly because the coronavirus is still so new that scientists do not know much about long-term effects. The best evidence comes from patients themselves, and some experience a variety of symptoms long after their infections have cleared.

Most people recover within a few weeks. For people who experience longer-term effects, the most common issues are bouts of exhaustion, headaches, anxiety, and muscle aches that can last for at least several more weeks.

Patients who required intensive care, including those put on ventilators or kidney dialysis, can experience more serious issues.

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Lung scarring can occur in people who developed pneumonia. Heart inflammation, irregular heartbeats, and worsening kidney and liver function have been reported as well. However, it is too soon to know if those could be permanent problems.

Survivors who had long intensive-care stays sometimes need oxygen therapy or dialysis at home. Some also develop a condition called post-intensive care syndrome, which can include persistent muscle weakness and memory problems. That can happen after any critical illness and may be related to sedation and prolonged bed confinement during hospitalization.

Blood clots can also develop during and after COVID-19 infections, occasionally causing strokes. Even in less serious cases, blood thinners are prescribed and can require lifestyle changes to reduce the risks of bleeding.

Most symptoms appear to eventually go away, said Dr. Thomas McGinn of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in New York, who was involved in one of the largest U.S. studies of COVID-19 patients.

“It’s just a matter of when. For some patients it may take longer than others,” McGinn said.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) addressed COVID-19 long-term effects on its July 30 news briefing where Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program said that although most people recover from mild illness “we cannot say, at the moment, what are the potential long-term impacts of having had that infection.

"We hope that everybody who recovers from COVID-19 will make a full, permanent recovery, but there's enough people out there having difficulties with their exercise tolerance, having difficulties with their breathing, and potentially having long-term impacts on their cardiovascular system, that we want to try to avoid all COVID infections possible, not just those COVID infections that lead to death," he added.

Remember that as the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have repeatedly mentioned, the best way to prevent COVID-19 is perhaps the simplest: washing your hands.

The proper way to wash your hands includes the next five steps:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
  6. In case you are using hand sanitizer instead, there is still a proper way of applying it to make sure you are actually getting rid of germs, however, remember that sanitizers do not get rid of all kinds of germs and they may not be as effective if your hands are visibly dirty.

The proper way to use hand sanitizer includes the next three steps:

  1. Apply the gel product to the palm of one hand.
  2. Rub your hands together.
  3. Rub the gel over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry

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