post COVID researcher analyzing a test tube
Locums News August 24, 2020

By Melissa Wirkus Hagstrom

Post-Viral Syndrome: What Physicians Need to Know

The United States has now recorded more than 5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, which means that millions of people are now recovering from the disease – which is proving to be another long and complex battle in itself.

Since the first outbreak of the coronavirus in early spring 2020, researchers and clinicians have been studying individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to track their recovery process and lingering symptoms. Their post-viral symptoms include everything from ongoing respiratory distress to heart issues and much more.

Some of the earliest research on this topic was just published in the 
Journal of the American Medical Association in early JulyThe researchers studied 143 patients from Italy who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and survived, and they found that four in five of these patients were still reporting symptoms two months later.  

More than six months after the disease was first identified, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, warned the country about “post-viral syndrome” following COVID-19 during a recent medical conference.

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What is post-viral syndrome?  

The post-viral syndrome is not unique to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has puzzled physicians and disease researchers for years. It can pop up after any viral infection and is widely known throughout the medical community as myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

Post-viral symptoms can include “brain fog, fatigue, and difficulty in concentrating,” explained Fauci at the International AIDS Conference that took place in California in July. “So this is something we really need to seriously look at because it very well might be a post-viral syndrome associated with COVID-19.”

According to data estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) taken from a 2015 report published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), up to 2.5 million Americans have ME/CFS, although many likely remain undiagnosed.

The symptoms of post-viral fatigue syndrome

According to information from the CDC, ME/CFS “is a serious, long-term illness that affects many-body systems. People with ME/CFS are often not able to do their usual activities. At times, ME/CFS may confine them to bed. People with ME/CFS have severe fatigue and sleep problems. ME/CFS may get worse after people with the illness try to do as much as they want or need to do. This symptom is known as post-exertional malaise (PEM). Other symptoms can include problems with thinking and concentrating, pain, and dizziness.” 

Fatigue, difficulty concentrating and/or sleeping, brain fog, and dizziness, and lightheadedness (orthostatic intolerance) are the hallmark symptoms of post-viral syndrome and ME/CFS. Although there is no cure or approved treatment for this syndrome yet, physicians are treating symptoms with a variety of medications, therapies, and tools.

To combat fatigue that can affect day-to-day life, the CDC recommends a host of solutions such as meditation, gentle exercise such as yoga, therapy / professional counseling, nutritional supplements, rest, and more.


Support for COVID-19 survivors and post-viral syndrome patients 

Mount Sinai Hospital in California has become a leading resource for both active- and post-COVID-19 care. It has also become a center of information and data collection/surveys for those with post-viral symptoms. They offer a COVID-19 recovery program, live town halls, weekly seminars, and additional resources for their clinicians and other team members.

Other hospitals and facilities are now following suit by providing ongoing support to COVID-19 survivors, including both those affected and unaffected by post-viral fatigue syndrome. 

Online support groups are also popping up all over social media platforms such as Facebook, allowing survivors to connect and share their symptoms, recovery process, and treatment. As the healthcare community continues to uncover more about the lingering effects of the post-viral syndrome, patients can at least connect with fellow sufferers to discuss solutions and wellness tips as they battle the symptoms.

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