Long COVID, also known as post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection or PASC, occurs when symptoms of COVID-19 or other health complications persist long after a person has recovered from the initial infection. While not everyone who has COVID will develop long-haul symptoms, research has found that over half of the population that previously became infected with the virus will experience some symptoms post-COVID.
With so many people suffering from these long-term effects, it’s beginning to become clearer what tell-tale signs there are to look out for following recovery from the viral infection. Just as COVID seems to affect many systems of the body, so does long COVID, and people with the disorder can develop symptoms that impact various areas of their health. So, what are the most common tell-tale signs that you have long COVID?
While an initial COVID-19 infection can range in severity from mild to deadly, medical researchers have been unsure of the reasons why the virus affects different people in varying ways. In the first year or so of the pandemic, there was also a lack of time to build up information regarding any long-term effects those who contracted the viral infection may face.
However, there is now a plethora of research to confirm that COVID-19 can negatively affect health long after the initial infection has cleared. In fact, many people who contracted the virus are now experiencing what is known as long COVID.
Initial research focused solely on those who had severe infections, and it was initially thought that only those with the worst COVID experiences would be subject to long-term effects. But recent research is shining light on the fact that those with mild cases, and even those who had the infection but presented with no symptoms at all, may develop the symptoms of long COVID. Read on as we discuss this phenomenon and answer the question: can long COVID present in asymptomatic patients?
What is long COVID?
Many people are aware of the term “long COVID” and its correlation with symptoms that persist long after recovery from an initial COVID infection. Typically, people with long COVID will experience symptoms such as:
A continued loss of smell and taste
Shortness of breath
While long COVID is now more widely understood and accepted, its effects and the people at risk of experiencing it are still being brought to light through new research, which has been made possible because of higher survival rates and more development time.
Why can someone with asymptomatic COVID-19 have long-haul symptoms?
Since new studies are being conducted surrounding long COVID, more information is available regarding its effects. But one thing that medical researchers still aren’t quite sure of is exactly why those who contracted COVID-19 but didn’t experience symptoms are still subject to negative health effects in the long run. While it can be common for those with asymptomatic viral infection to experience long-term damage, it wasn’t clinically investigated in the realm of COVID until recently.
One theory surrounding the issues that arise with long COVID in asymptomatic patients is damage that goes under the radar while the immune system tries to fight off the infection. One particular case examined passengers of a cruise ship that was subject to a two-week off-coast quarantine because of an outbreak. Close to 25% of passengers on the ship were diagnosed with COVID, and almost half of these presented with no symptoms at all.
Of those who had no symptoms, 76 people were asked to undergo a CT scan of their lungs. The CT scan found that more than half of the people who presented with no symptoms still had ground glass opacities in their lungs. There have also been reports of the same thing happening to children who caught the infection but didn’t experience any symptoms.
While no conclusion has been drawn as to whether or not this kind of damage directly leads to long COVID symptoms, it is possible that the lung damage caused by an asymptomatic infection can lead to health issues down the line.
What are some asymptomatic COVID long-term effects?
Viruses of all kinds can lead to long-term effects, and COVID is no exception. Research surrounding the long-term effects in people without symptoms have found that has many as 30–60% would later go on to develop post-COVID syndrome, or long COVID.
The symptoms that were most notable in those who were asymptomatic included:
Shortness of breath
Full or partial loss of smell and taste
Difficulties with concentration or memory
These symptoms are no different than those experienced by people who have long COVID following a more severe infection.
Who is most at risk for asymptomatic long COVID?
While anyone is potentially at risk for developing long COVID, recent research has found that women between the ages of 40 and 60 are far more likely to experience the symptoms of long COVID than men in the same age bracket, regardless of the severity of the initial viral infection. Although medical researchers don’t have a clear answer as to why, it could be tied to autoimmunity and the fact that autoimmune diseases are more common in women in this age bracket.
The phenomenon of long COVID in asymptomatic patients is still being investigated. As more studies are conducted and more people heal from the disease, a clearer picture may be found as to why the severity of the infection doesn’t seem to play as large a role in long-term symptoms as it was once thought. Until then, the best thing people can do is protect themselves from the infection through measures such as vaccination.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our understanding of the disease was minimal at best. Because it was new to medical scientists, the way it operated within humans, how it infiltrated the body, and the way it affected survivors was all but theory until enough evidence was gathered. Two years in, that evidence has found that not only are survivors equipped with antibodies against the virus, but some are also suffering from a condition known as long COVID.
Until recently, diagnosing long COVID was based on examining people who had recovered from the virus, yet remained plagued with lingering symptoms. That may all change now, though, as medical researchers have discovered something interesting in the blood of patients suffering long-term consequences of the infection. Because of this, a new test may be possible to help identify past infections and diagnose long COVID cases in those who continue to suffer from symptoms.
Since 2020, medical professionals across the globe have been tirelessly investigating all there is to know about COVID-19. From the viral load and how the disease is passed on through communities to the factors that increase the risk of severe illness, researchers have been synthesizing information that could aid in slowing the spread and lowering the death toll.
While there is still much we do not fully understand about COVID-19, including how it affects people differently and why, there are some new studies shining light on the viral load and its possible connection to severe COVID-19 cases. So what is the relevance of viral load in the severity of COVID symptoms, exactly?
At the time of writing, over 332 million people across the globe have contracted COVID-19, and the death toll from the virus sits at just over 5.5 million. Many people who have had COVID-19 and recovered from it are still dealing with the aftermath of the infection. Lasting symptoms and other health complications have begun developing in many people – so many that the phenomenon has earned the name “long COVID” or “post-COVID-19 syndrome”.
The typical symptoms of a COVID-19 infection can linger for months after the infection has cleared in many people, and in some cases, the infection has led to organ damage, blood clots and blood vessel issues, mood and fatigue disorders, and even a condition known as Guillain-Barre syndrome that causes temporary paralysis. With so many ailments and conditions arising after a COVID-19 infection, new research is investigating whether the reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) could also be added to the list. Read on for more information about reactivation of EBV after COVID.