Unraveling COVID’s corrosive persistence: Doctors struggle to understand why initially mild symptoms sometimes leave lingering scars on the mind and body

Credit: Rebecca Meyer
Credit: Rebecca Meyer

For many patients, including young ones who never required hospitalization, Covid-19 has a devastating second act.

Many are dealing with symptoms weeks or months after they were expected to recover, often with puzzling new complications that can affect the entire body—severe fatigue, cognitive issues and memory lapses, digestive problems, erratic heart rates, headaches, dizziness, fluctuating blood pressure, even hair loss.

Some symptoms could be collateral damage from the body’s immune response during the acute infection, researchers said. Some patients might harbor an undetectable reservoir of infectious virus or have bits of noninfectious virus in some cells that trigger an immune response, they said.

Another possibility is that the virus causes some people’s immune systems to attack and damage their own organs and tissues, researchers said. A June study found roughly half of 29 hospitalized ICU patients with Covid-19 had one or more types of autoantibodies—antibodies that mistakenly target and attack a patient’s own tissues or organs.

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How long it will take long-Covid patients to recover remains unknown. [Mount Sinai’s Dr. David] Putrino said most of them won’t get better on their own, and will need at least six months of structured rehabilitation.

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