When Covid won't go away

Coronavirus Daily
  • U.S. has thousands of vaccine doses ready if one works
  • Office push puts Johnson on collision course with U.K. workers
  • Thailand plans to  re-open for long-stay visitors this winter

When Covid Won't Go Away

In the nine months since the coronavirus emerged, the global medical community has learned about how to detect the virus, restrict its spread and better treat patients. Lately, scientists are also confronting a glaring blind spot in their knowledge: thousands of Covid-19 patients who report that months later they haven't recovered in full. 

Mysterious lingering symptoms after viral infections aren't new. Patients recovering from other viruses, including Ebola and the coronaviruses SARS and MERS, have also reported a wide range of continuing health problems, including neurologic issues. And then there's chronic fatigue syndrome, also called myalgic encephalomyelitis, a mysterious and debilitating condition linked to numerous viral infections.

"It's the minority of people — depending on the illness, from 5% to 20% — who have some kind of persistent problem. They never quite get over it," says Mitchell Elkind, a professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University.

Healthcare workers conduct Covid-19 tests in Buenos Aires.

Photographer: Pablo E. Piovano/Bloomberg

Now Covid-19 patients are reporting similar problems. Some of the most common issues involve the nervous system, including everything from memory and sleep disturbances to dizziness, nerve pain and "brain fog." Scientists are just starting to study those "long-haul"  patients, so it's not clear what is causing their symptoms or how long they will last. But even if a small minority of Covid patients face lingering cognitive problems, "that can be a massive societal and economic burden a year from now," says Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at Western University in Canada.

In the past, post-viral syndromes have often gotten limited research attention, or, in the case of chronic fatigue syndrome, proved hard to study given the long interval between viral infections and reported symptoms. The enormous number of coronavirus patients with lasting neurological symptoms may finally change that. It's prompting numerous studies just getting underway that may give doctors and patients badly needed answers to why some people can't seem to recover from Covid-19.—Emma Court and Robert Langreth

Listen up

South Africa's Multiple Epidemics

The coronavirus has swept through South Africa. But the country was already carrying a heavy burden of chronic and infectious diseases. Its healthcare system is fragile. Johannesburg-based reporter Janice Kew explains what happened when the country went into a strict lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from overwhelming its medical facilities.

Photographer: Patricia Suzara

Photographer: Patricia Suzara


What you should read

Stumbles on Virus Wound FDA's Reputation
The agency has been dragged into the political fray in U.S.
Paraguay Tries to Avoid Late Virus Surge 
 Neighboring Argentina and Bolivia also seeing jump in cases. 
California Retools Reopening After Summer Surge
New system seeks to end disparate approaches to restarting businesses. 
NYC Schools Near Opening Dreaded by Teachers
De Blasio staking his legacy on reopening the largest school system in U.S.
Testing Needed to Find Kids 'Silently Shedding' 
About 70% of children at risk had symptoms that didn't get picked up.

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