Why We Should Be Concerned about the Long-Term Effects of COVID-19

Written by: Gabrielle Huizinga

Editors: William Dean, Rebecca Dzombak, and Noah Steinfeld

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, first emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019 and quickly spread to the United States beginning in January 2020. At the time of writing, there have been over 39 million cases worldwide with a fatality rate around 2.8%. While hospitals and public health officials are primarily concerned with the short-term effects of COVID-19, such as hospitalization rates, shortages of supplies, and the spread of the virus, many viruses can cause long-term illness. There have already been reports that people who have recovered from COVID-19 experience lingering myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. This can cause the heart to not function properly and puts excess strain on the body. Patients infected in the 2003 outbreak of SARS, a virus similar to SARS-CoV-2, experience chronic illnesses, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, abnormal lung function, and decreased exercise capacity. Our ability to understand the long-term effects of a newly-emerged virus like SARS-CoV-2 are limited, but the long-term symptoms of similar, more well-understood viruses may be informative when thinking about why we need to take action now to limit the spread of the disease through increased sanitization, the wearing of face coverings, and minimizing contact with others.

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