With more than 30 million documented cases of COVID 19 worldwide and over 1 million deaths, the pandemic seems to be out of control. The disease course may be anywhere from asymptomatic to severe respiratory failure and death. The hope of vaccines to help stem the tide should be the light at the end of the tunnel. At the time of this writing, estimates suggest that about 20 million people have “recovered”. However, physicians are now getting reports of patients with persistent severe symptoms, and even organ damage, following a COVID 19 infection from which they have recovered.
Currently, there is no agreement on what represents a post-acute COVID 19 syndrome. The most commonly reported symptoms after a COVID 19 infection are fatigue and shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include but are not limited to, joint pain or chest pain. In addition to these generalized complaints, specific organ system-related symptoms are also reported. The most commonly reported organ symptoms are the heart, lungs, and brain.
It is still very early in the COVID 19 pandemic to know and understand the potential long-term effects of this infection. Patients with persistent and ongoing symptoms have been referred to as “long haulers”. Clinics are now opening to help respond to the needs of this newly developing population of patients. Clearly, it will take time to observe and serve this potentially vulnerable population. We are just beginning to see the tip of the long-term consequences of this pandemic.