The Emerging Links Between Covid-19 and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome may hold keys to understanding post-Covid syndrome

Markham Heid
Published in
7 min readAug 25, 2020


An illustration of a fatigued person, lying down on a bench and dreaming of a brighter day.
Illustration: Virginia Gabrielli

Almost everyone is familiar with the short-term symptoms of an acute SARS-CoV-2 infection. These include a fever, cough, breathing problems, fatigue, diarrhea, and other flu-like symptoms. While some doctors have raised alarms about the infection’s potential to inflict lasting organ damage, the popular perception of Covid-19 is that a small percentage of patients die and the rest recover.

But as the pandemic has stretched on, experts have begun to recognize that many Covid-19 patients — maybe even a majority — continue to grapple with a range of “post-viral” symptoms.

“Prolonged fatigue as well as brain fog and other persistent symptoms have been reported in a lot of Covid-19 patients.”

Some of these patients eventually get all the way back to normal, even if it takes a few weeks or months for that to happen. But some don’t. And for those who have yet to fully recover, there’s a growing suspicion that the virus may act as a catalyst for a condition that is commonly, if a bit misleadingly, known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

“Prolonged fatigue as well as brain fog and other persistent symptoms have been reported in a lot of Covid-19 patients,” says John Swartzberg, MD, an infectious disease expert and emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He says that these post-viral symptoms are typical of chronic fatigue syndrome, an illness that also goes by the name myalgic encephalomyelitis and is often abbreviated ME/CFS.

“We know that in patients who develop [ME/CFS], it’s often triggered by a bad viral infection,” he says. “And so there’s the thought that SARS-CoV-2 could be a cause.”

The relationship between Covid-19, ME/CFS, and ‘Post-Viral Syndrome’

In July, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a report from Italy that found that the bulk of former Covid-19 patients — those who had been hospitalized, discharged, and who no longer tested positive…



Markham Heid

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.

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