Even a healthy person risks COVID for a long time

Editor’s note: Editorial articles represent the views of the Star Tribune’s editorial board, which operates independently of the newsroom.


Savannah Brooks has been an athlete all her life. She loves kickboxing and has trained in mixed martial arts competitions.

But in April, the 30-year-old Minneapolis woman tested positive for COVID-19. This did not make her ill enough to need hospitalization. Still, prolonged fatigue and an accelerating heart rate that accompanied even the slightest effort mean she now relies on a wheelchair to walk around her neighborhood.

For someone who has been a “picture of health,” the medical problems after COVID are frustrating and frustrating. Especially difficult: without knowing how long it will last. “I think if this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone,” Brooks told the editor.

Commendably, Brooks was open about her health challenges. Its recent Twitter topic went viral, providing an important public service. While many mistakenly downplay the threat from COVID to healthy people, this vaccinated Minnesota story illustrates how much remains unknown about the virus, especially its potential long-term health effects.

Experts such as Dr. Greg Vanichkahorn of the Mayo Clinic are warning of the huge number of people who may be struggling with persistent complications – even if their illness is mild. A new muscle analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights the need to take these concerns seriously.

The CDC report focuses on the incidence of post-COVID conditions among Americans aged 18 and over who have survived the virus. Researchers are using an electronic health record system that includes 63.4 million unique adult records in 50 states. The data include those diagnosed or tested positive in an inpatient, emergency department or outpatient setting. Disadvantage: vaccination status was not included in the analysis.

Two critical points emerged.

  • A significant percentage of adult COVID survivors experience what the CDC calls “accident states” that may be associated with this infection.
  • The severity or duration of these conditions can affect a person’s quality of life and ability to work.

The study divided adults into two age groups: 18-64 and 65 and up. It made sense to do it. Elderly people are at greatest risk of death from COVID, and those in this analysis are also at higher risk of long-term conditions. One in four survivors aged 65 or over “and had at least one accident that may be due to a previous COVID-19”.

But the difference between them and the younger survivors studied was smaller than might have been expected. One in five Americans in the 18-64 group suffered an “accident.”

The study listed 26 incidents potentially related to infection. The range of organs and functions that may be affected is sobering: heart attacks, arrhythmias, pulmonary embolism, chronic kidney disease, musculoskeletal pain, neurological disorders, difficulty sleeping, as well as asthma and other respiratory symptoms.

“The most common incidents in both age groups are respiratory symptoms and musculoskeletal pain,” the study said.

In general, “COVID-19 survivors are twice as likely to develop pulmonary embolism or respiratory conditions” as those who were not infected.

Vanichkachorn of Mayo, who treats patients with long-term COVID, told the editor that the size of the study heightened the medical community’s concerns about the number of people affected. In addition, he said, the findings should help struggling patients get the care they need.

Doctors will now be better informed about the risks. The study should also help persuade patients to seek care, even if others suspect they need it, especially younger people. “It’s not just in someone’s head,” Vanichkahorn said.

Post-COVID care is usually holistic. It includes treatment of symptoms, as well as physiotherapy and other rehabilitation services. Often attempts to quickly return to normal is counterproductive, Vanichkakorn said.

Politicians must also get involved. Because COVID was so widespread, millions of people can now cope with current medical needs. This will affect the capacity of healthcare, families and the workforce, where the workforce is already in short supply. Careful preparation to meet these challenges and support patients like Savannah Brooks is vital.

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