Experts estimate that 30 million people worldwide have had COVID-19. More than a million have died, and approximately 20 million have recovered. However, while health professionals usually think of this as an acute illness, recovery may be far slower than anticipated. The CDC has found that 35% of adults who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 still had symptoms more than two weeks later (JAMA, Oct. 5, 2020).  What happens when COVID symptoms don’t go away?

When COVID Symptoms Don’t Go Away:

Health professionals may know, generally, what to expect from a disease. On the other hand, having undergone it yourself gives you a different perspective, whether you are a health professional or not. We speak with a doctor who had COVID-19 and recovered. We also talk with a social epidemiologist. This previously healthy young person will tell us what it feels like when COVID symptoms don’t go away even though it has been months since the initial infection.

Which COVID Symptoms Don’t Go Away?

According to the CDC report, fatigue and trouble breathing easily are the most common symptoms that linger long after a positive test for SARS-CoV-2 has cleared. Other potential problems include heart inflammation and impaired lung function. Losing the sense of smell graphically demonstrates that this virus can affect the nervous system. The infection may trigger seizures as well. Patients struggling to recover often report “brain fog” or mood swings.

Testimony from a Long-Hauler:

Our guest Margot Gage Witvliet, PhD, describes her experience as a long-hauler. She was an extremely healthy young woman who caught the infection in March. After six months, she is nowhere near the state of health she enjoyed before. Despite lingering symptoms like fatigue and sore throat, she has started an online support group for women of color suffering as COVID symptoms don’t go away.

Discussion with a Doctor Who Recovered:

We also speak with physician Michael Saag. In addition to treating patients with COVID-19, Dr. Saag had the infection himself. Find out what it is like for a health care professional to experience the very condition he is treating in other people. Our interview with Dr. Saag was conducted prior to President Trump’s diagnosis and treatment.

This Week’s Guests:

Margot Gage Witvliet, PhD, is an Assistant Professor and social epidemiologist in the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Criminal Justice, at Lamar University.
@drgagewitvliet (Twitter, Instagram)

You may wish to read her compelling essay in NC Health News.

Michael Saag, MD, is the Associate Dean for Global Health in the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He is Director of the UAB Center for AIDS Research and a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available Monday, October 12, 2020, after broadcast on October 10. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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