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Levine: Virus symptoms can linger

A formula-derived statistic published by the state Department of Health every day for months has indicated that about 80% of those who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 in Pennsylvania have “recovered.”

That means they’re no longer contagious, said state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine in a news conference Wednesday.

But it doesn’t mean that all of them are well: many — those known as long-haulers — remain freighted with symptoms, according to Levine.

“True recovery can be a long process,” and hundreds of thousands of people who’ve been infected in the U.S. are still having problems after the infection has gone, the secretary said, citing a study published in July by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 35% of COVID-19 victims who were surveyed for the study had not returned to normal health when interviewed two to three weeks after testing positive, according to the CDC report.

That included 20% of those 18 to 34 years old who had no prior chronic issues, which shows that “COVID-19 can result in prolonged illness, even among young adults without underlying chronic medical conditions,” the report stated.

It had already been clear that for those hospitalized with severe COVID-19 cases, “prolonged symptom duration and disability (were) common,” the CDC wrote.

The symptoms “least likely to have resolved” included cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and loss of smell and taste, according to the CDC.

Joint pain and chest pain, chills and sweats, body aches, headaches, brain fog, gastrointestinal issues and impaired memory and concentration were among those cited in the JAMA article.

Fatigue was noted by one source as the most common problem.

The findings for COVID-19 contrast with prior findings for flu, given that “over 90% of outpatients with influenza recover within approximately two weeks of having a positive test result,” according to the CDC report.

“A considerable number” of people can be incapacitated for “weeks and weeks following so-called recovery and clearing of the virus,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as quoted in a Sept. 23 article on the website of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A Facebook group for long-haulers has 8,000 members, according to the JAMA article.

Eighty-seven percent of 143 people studied in Italy — ages 19 to 84 — all of whom had been hospitalized with COVID-19 were still feeling symptoms two months after the onset of problems, according to the JAMA article.

Yet many long-haulers “initially had mild to moderate symptoms,” the JAMA article said.

Overall, about 10% of those infected by COVID-19 had extended problems in a sampling analyzed by a team in the United Kingdom, according to the JAMA article.

The average age for long-haulers was 40 in a group evaluated in France, according to JAMA.

The COVID-19 long-hauler experience was foreshadowed in the early 2000s by the world’s experience with SARS, which was also caused by a coronavirus, but which created a far less extensive epidemic, according to the JAMA article. For some victims of that disease, problems with lung function lasted two years, according to the article.

Many long-haulers are health care workers “who had massive exposure to the virus early in the pandemic,” stated the JAMA article, citing the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“We’re just learning as we go,” Levine said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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