A cruel and uncertain side effect of the coronavirus is that for some people who develop the disease, the debilitating symptoms linger for months.
Kate Porter, a 35-year-old mother from Beverly, Massachusetts, has had a fever nearly every day for 50 days. Although she initially tested positive for the virus, she’s had two negative tests since, and yet symptoms persist.
Andrew Dumont, 32, of Seattle, who now tests negative after suffering from the illness, still has numbness in his limbs and shortness of breath — prompting two recent visits to the emergency room, according to NBC News.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider a person recovered if three days have passed since a fever broke without the assistance of medication, and respiratory systems, such as cough or shortness of breath, have improved. According to NBC News, negative tests can also signal recovery, but tests can be inaccurate.
Experts are now saying the virus can smolder in the body for days or weeks before potentially worsening leading to increased vigilance by some physicians. Those who are recovering at home need to be specially monitored.
“We do frequent phone calls, checking in and telling patients what to watch for,” Dr. Lara Hall, clinical lead for the Cambridge Alliance Respiratory Clinic near Boston, tells NBC News. “The thing we really worry about is shortness of breath.”
Hall takes extra caution for people in the high-risk category, such as those suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic lung disease or who are over the age of 65.
In the meantime, people like Porter and Dumont who have no underlying medical conditions, continue to experience terrifying symptoms.
“Honestly, I dread going to sleep,” she tells NBC News, adding that she wakes up during the night with her whole body shaking, as if she’s been exposed to freezing temperatures. Her hair, sheets and clothes are drenched with sweat.
Dumont also has sleepless nights.
“My breathing has been so bad that there were nights where I couldn’t even lay down,” he says. “I stayed awake without any ability to sleep.”
Doctors say that it’s possible some patients will experience lingering symptoms of the virus for a month or more.
Dr. Eric Strong, a clinical associate professor at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, notes that patients experiencing prolonged symptoms are probably not still contagious, but may be experiencing something similar to post-Lyme disease syndrome. Some patients who have Lyme disease report symptoms that linger for up to six months after they’ve been treated with oral antibiotics, he tells CNBC.
Dumont shared his COVID-19 symptoms on Twitter, and says he’s received hundreds of messages from other patients with similar stories.
“We fall into the category of not critical and dying, but not asymptomatic,” he tells NBC News. “That’s a very lonely, unclear place to be.”
Strong admits there are still many unknowns.
“We’re still figuring this disease out, and it may be a long time before we definitely know the answers to some of these questions,” he tells CNBC.
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