Research Has Been Accelerated to Understand the Association of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and COVID-19

Dr. Harvey Moldofsky

Harvey Moldofsky is a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto. His area of focus is SARS, and since the onset of COVID-19, he has been fully invested in obtaining a better understanding of COVID-19.

Specifically, he is investigating the potential lasting effects of the disease.

Although COVID-19 has not been seen before, we do have history of similar illnesses to look back on. The understanding of similar viruses will help us to determine the best next steps for COVID-19, and perhaps to predict the effects it may have down the line.

Let’s take a look back at the most similar virus- SARS.

SARS

SARS had its onset in 2003 and was contained in just four months, with most of the cases concentrated in China. Moldofsky began his research on long term effects of this virus four years after the outbreak. He started his investigation despite being told there was no interest in the study, and he would receive no funding. Everyone believed the virus had disappeared.

The general lack of interest in this virus after its containment was a huge setback to our understanding of COVID-19 today.

Nonetheless, Moldofsky continued his investigation for a full two years, eventually linking the virus to chronic fatigue syndrome. The patients he studied had recovered from the acute illness but they still experienced lingering symptoms from the initial onset.

He even coined the name “Chronic post-SARS syndrome.” The symptoms these patients experienced were unique to the SARS virus and lasted long-term. He found they were similar to fibromyalgia, but these patient had less pain. Symptoms included-

  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Non-restorative sleep
  • Persistent fatigue

A few other researchers have kept their eye on previously diagnosed SARS patients to document the lasting impact of the condition. Here are some of the findings-

  • Recovery could take 6 months to one year
  • Some patients experienced persistent muscle weakness
  • Some experienced an impaired lung function
  • Over half of patients could not continue their work one full year after their ICU discharge in Toronto
  • 40% of patients in Hong Kong faced chronic fatigue for four years following their initial diagnosis

Let’s compare the above to what we know so far about COVID-19.

  • Symptoms lasting months following diagnosis
  • 44% of Italian patients in a recent study experienced diminished quality of life two months following onset with symptoms including
    • Shortness of breath
    • Fatigue
    • Chest Pain
    • Body Aches

SARS shares 80% of the same genetic material as COVID-19, but to truly understand their differences we need further research.

Despite Moldofsky’s dismissal, researchers are now digging into SARS research to understand COVID. They are now coming up with a term for those experiencing long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19. It’s called “Post COVID-19 Syndrome,” very similar to Moldofsky’s coined “Chronic post-SARS syndrome.” Post COVID-19 Syndrome is primarily characterized by fatigue and brain fog.

Parallels to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a rare disease which is becoming increasingly discussed in association with COVID-19 because the symptoms of it are so similar to what long-term COVID-19 patients are experiencing.

But why do these symptoms persist for some COVID patients and not others? For some, it is initiated from blood clots. For others, it is an aggressive immune response. It could also be a result of the virus crossing the blood-brain barrier, as Moldofsky found with SARS patients. It could also be sparked by environmental factors or genetic factors specific to each patient.

The better we understand the disease, the more likely we will be able to come up with effective treatments targeting its specific effects. Hopefully, the scale of this pandemic will help to ensure this research gets funded.

Representative Jamie Raskin from Maryland has recently co-sponsored a bill which would provide 15 million dollars in funding annually for the next four years. This research would be directly for COVID cases associated with long-term fatigue.

Documentation

Documentation is another huge issue impeding proper research.

The world has struggled to adequately document coronavirus cases and recoveries. For many analysts “recovered” has simply meant discharged from a hospital setting. This doesn’t mean that many of these patients aren’t still experiencing lasting symptoms.

Dr. Fauci says it could take years to determine the true extent of any long-lasting consequences of the disease. The CDC remains that 14 days is the typical duration of illness for patients. The WHO says it could be more like 6 weeks. That said, both organizations recognize that some patients may experience symptoms much longer. For some, it could even become a chronic state.

The best knowledge we have is coming from the experiences of patients themselves and hopefully, we will have a much clearer picture very soon.

You can read more about this link between COVID-19 and chronic fatigue syndrome here.

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