The Long-Term Health Impacts of Being Infected With the Coronavirus

Experts take clues from other infections and predict what the future might hold for Covid-19 survivors

Dana G Smith
Elemental
Published in
9 min readMay 19, 2020

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A multicolored closeup photo of a woman wearing a face mask.
Photo: Andrew Merry/Getty Images

In the Covid-19 self-help group Survivor Corps on Facebook, people share their symptoms of crippling fatigue, feeling groggy or fuzzy-headed, joint pain and deep bone aches, chest pain, heart palpitations, headaches, dizziness, and insomnia — and these are all after they’ve recovered from the cough and fever of the primary infection.

There is growing concern about the potential long-term consequences of Covid-19, with reports of symptoms lingering for weeks and even months. Survivors want to know how long these afflictions will last or if they’ll ever completely go away, not to mention what might be waiting around the corner in the months and years to come.

While it might feel like we’ve been in collective quarantine forever, Covid-19 is still a very new disease that has only been present in humans for six months. That means long-term studies of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and subsequent infection are in their infancy. However, experts can take clues from other viral illnesses to try to predict how survivors might fare one, two, five, or 10 years from now.

Elemental spoke with four physicians about what might be in store for survivors going forward.

Lungs

One of the primary concerns after a respiratory infection like Covid-19 is whether lung function will be permanently altered. The good news is that if your symptoms are relatively mild and you don’t need to be hospitalized, there are good reasons to believe you’ll make a full recovery.

“Whether it’s a typical pneumonia, an influenza pneumonia, or even a Covid pneumonia, if you’re not sick enough to be hospitalized there’s every likelihood you’re going to bounce back to a fairly normal pre-illness status,” says Albert Rizzo, MD, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. “[It] may take four, five, six weeks even after the recovery has begun for the X-ray to get back to normal, but very often it will in those more mild and moderate cases.”

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Dana G Smith
Elemental

Health and science writer • PhD in 🧠 • Words in Scientific American, STAT, The Atlantic, The Guardian • Award-winning Covid-19 coverage for Elemental