They’re called “long haulers,” COVID patients whose symptoms linger long after the virus leaves their body. In its deep dive into the latest research, the Wall Street Journal notes one odd trait: These ailments often turn up in patients who had mild coronavirus symptoms that didn’t require hospitalization. But even though the virus cleared easily, these people continue to be plagued by a wide variety of problems, including brain fog, fatigue, digestive trouble, increased heart rates, headaches, and dizziness for weeks or months. One woman in the story, a fit, 43-year-old female attorney, continues to struggle with memory lapses and gastrointestinal problems after contracting COVID in March. “Usually, the patients with bad disease are most likely to have persistent symptoms, but COVID doesn’t work like that,” says Trisha Greenhalgh of the University of Oxford.
Estimates of how many patients fall into the “long hauler” camp vary because the phenomenon is new. On the low end, it’s around 2%, but that still translates to a large number, given millions of COVID cases worldwide. This type of thing shows up with other viruses, including SARS, but COVID is different because the ailments are so widespread, affecting the heart, the kidneys, and more. A leading theory pins the blame on immune-system activity that triggers inflammation in organs and the nervous system. And one expert says it’s possible the virus is “disrupting the normal functioning of the vagus nerve—the body’s longest cranial nerve—which relays messages to the lungs, gut and heart,” per the Journal. Meanwhile, a separate new study finds that rashes and “COVID toes” also can linger for months after the virus clears, reports HealthDay News. (Read more coronavirus stories.)