Asymptomatic Covid-19 and “long-Covid” are becoming a greater concern as many may be suffering from the virus without even knowing.
Asymptomatic Covid and long-Covid have been flying under the radar however, the affects of both should not be overlooked. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 people who have Covid-19 are asymptomatic. Asymptomatic Covid is more likely to occur in healthy and younger age groups, including children and in households where another member has contracted Covid. Individuals who have been in contact with others who have tested positive for the virus but do not display symptoms after contact could be asymptomatic.
Additionally, about a fifth of asymptomatic individuals went on to develop what has been termed “long-Covid,” according to an analysis by FAIR Health. Current research suggests older individuals are more likely to contract long Covid, but it has been found in many younger individuals as well. Data from a study conducted by King’s College London found that 1-2% of people in their 20s who had the virus would develop long Covid. For people in their 60s that number increased to about 5%. Long-Covid has also been found to be twice as common among women according to the BBC.
What is long-Covid and how does it affect the body?
Long-Covid is characterized by symptoms continuing for more than 12 weeks after infection which cannot be explained by another cause. Those who contracted Covid and were asymptomatic may not even know they are suffering from long-Covid afterwards.
“There’s a myth out there that it only occurs with severe COVID, and obviously it occurs far more frequently in mild COVID,” said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, in an article with National Geographic.
Many symptoms of long-Covid are often overlooked or written off as unrelated making the syndrome hard to pin down. Long-Covid can include a large range of symptoms such as pain, breathing difficulties, fatigue, brain fog, dizziness, sleep disturbance, and hypertension.
These symptoms can range from mild to severe and can impact your daily life, making ordinary tasks more difficult, and in extreme cases can lead to debilitating effects such as hallucinations, skin conditions, short-term memory loss, insomnia, hearing and vision changes, and gastro-intestinal problems.
Other symptoms according to the CDC, include:
- Joint pain
- Chest pain
- Memory, concentration or sleep problems
- Muscle pain or headache
- Fast or pounding heartbeat
- Loss of smell or taste
- Depression or anxiety
- Worsened symptoms after physical or mental activities
The potential debilitating effects of long-Covid is cause for concern and individuals should keep an eye out for any changes to their health, even if they do not believe they have contracted Covid-19.
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Diagnosing and treating long-Covid
While the cause of long-Covid is not yet known, experts theorize that the infection may make some people’s immune systems “go into overdrive,” attacking other parts of the body while combating the virus.
Another theory presented in a BBC article stated that “fragments of the virus could remain in the body, possibly lying dormant and then becoming reactivated.” However, there is little evidence to support this theory at the moment.
The range of long-Covid’s symptoms has made it difficult to detect and treat. BBC reported that a study conducted by University College London found “200 symptoms affecting 10 organ systems in people with long Covid.”
According to Melissa Pinto, associate professor in the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing at University of California Irvine, researchers found that some people who tested positive for Covid-19 but hadn’t reported symptoms at the time of infection later came in with symptoms associated with long-Covid.
In diagnosing long-Covid, researchers and medical professionals must first test for any other underlying or preexisting conditions that may be causing symptoms.
Ann Parker, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and a specialist in post-acute COVID-19 care, said, “When a patient comes to see us, we do a very thorough evaluation because we still don’t know exactly what to attribute to COVID and what might be a pre-existing underlying syndrome. The last thing I want to have happen is to say to a patient, yes, this is because you had COVID and miss something else that we could have addressed.”
We are only just beginning to understand the effects of long-Covid and how to detect and treat it. With so much still unknown, it is important for individuals who have contracted Covid-19 to continue monitoring their health even after recovery. For those who may have been asymptomatic, you may not even know you had Covid or have long-Covid. In this case, individuals who have been in contact with people who tested positive for the virus should consider getting tested even if no symptoms are present.