A Mild Case of COVID, An Intense Year of Fatigue

As COVID-19 makes its way around the globe, scientists are discovering new ways the infection will linger in the months and years to come.
As reported in John Hopkins Medicine, Dr. Peter Rowe’s three patients are all young, between 19 and 30, and none had particularly troublesome bouts of the virus, not necessitating hospitalization or oxygen. However, beginning in the following weeks and persisting over the year since, all three have been plagued by persistent, debilitating fatigue, which because it endured for over six months, is known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS). 
All three patients have seen their lives severely disrupted, with symptoms lasting for over a year and preventing them from the most mundane tasks of regular life. So while their displays of COVID-19 weren’t particularly notable at the time of infection, their lives have never returned to normal. Rowe, Director of the Chronic Fatigue Clinic at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, said,
“All were flattened from the beginning by fatigue and lightheadedness, as well as difficulties with concentration. All three were unable to complete tasks that they used to perform with ease, such as sitting upright at the computer, cooking and exercising.”
 These are troubling findings for Rowe— who bemoans the severe nature of the condition, that the majority of individuals never fully recover from. While research is still in the works, his advice? Get vaccinated.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Myalgic encephalomyelitis/ chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) is a rare chronic condition that causes patients to be plagued by unrelenting fatigue, that no rest can prevail. The rest appears to be unexplainable, though it worsens with physical or mental exertion. This also causes low stamina, brain fog, blurred vision, dizziness, headaches, sleep issues, joint and muscle pain, depression, sore throats, worse symptoms when standing, and more. This condition severely alters a person’s life, with many individuals winding up housebound. CFS can affect anyone but is most common in females between ages 30 and 50. Treatment includes avoiding too much activity, creating healthy sleep rituals, antidepressants, cognitive therapy, and diet recommendations.

An Athlete is Bed Bound

The three patients in question were each lively individuals before the pandemic. One was a cross-country runner, making a habit of covering 60 to 70 miles a week on foot; but now can sparsely get through more than a casual 15-minute stroll. Another was a high-level scientist, but now even sitting up at a computer is a feat, and brain-fog and difficulty concentrating make it fruitless. All three have experienced patients for over a year now, since their infections in 2020.
The effects of this sleepy condition are extremely burdensome, stealing time and energy from those affected. Rowe lamented,
“I wouldn’t wish ME/CFS on my worst enemy. It is a devastating illness that robs people of their ability to live a normal life, to think, to move around as they please, and to advance their education or careers. It can last years, and for some it is permanent. It leaves many people homebound and completely disabled.”
All three patients were also plagued by other related symptoms— including brain fog, sleep trouble, and exercise intolerance, causing extreme fatigue following any physical ventures. They also had severe “orthostatic intolerance”, which causes them to become extremely lightheaded after standing for just a few minutes. They are each experiencing new allergies, experiencing recurring hives outbreaks in response to certain foods they’d previously consumed without issue.
They’re not alone. Many doctors across the world have found patients plagued by fatigue after contracting the contagious coronavirus  Doctors at Northwestern Medicine have also found there is not only a prevalence of CFS in patients following infection, but that most adults will bear some lingering symptoms including headaches, brain fog, numbness or tingling, and muscle pain.
Why does the coronavirus cause this reaction in some patients? They’re not entirely sure. Due to the novel nature of the virus, Rowe is hesitant to jump to conclusions. He said,
“We don’t know the causal pathway with any degree of certainty. One possibility is that it’s a direct result of the virus’s impact on a patient’s autonomic nervous system. Or it could be an indirect impact resulting from the patient’s immune response to the virus.”
Rowe’s patients are being treated now with resources that prevent inflammation and keep their heart rates steady to avoid nausea while standing. Still, the virus continues to bear a heavy burden on their routines, who are still affected a year down the road. As for the rest of us, the best bet is avoiding the contagious bug that’s rocking the 2020’s.
Rowe reiterates his previous point: the best way to avoid complications of COVID-19 like CFS is to get vaccinated.

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