Some symptoms don't get a lot of attention in the discussion about COVID-19, but they could mean you've already been infected, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert. Those symptoms are fatigue and brain fog—difficulty focusing, recalling or concentrating. COVID-19 so frequently causes these lingering symptoms that Fauci has likened the phenomenon to chronic fatigue syndrome. Read on to see why this puts you in danger, and how to avoid it—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
Lasting fatigue frequently seen
"If you look anecdotally, there is no question that there are a considerable number of individuals who have a post-viral syndrome that really in many respects can incapacitate them for weeks and weeks following the so-called recovery and clearing of the virus," said Fauci during an International AIDS Society COVID-19 press conference last year. "You can see people who've recovered who really do not get back to normal, that they have things that are highly suggestive of myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome—brain fog, fatigue and difficulty in concentrating. 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."
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19—and one of the most frequently long-lasting. Fatigue is a common reaction to any illness. But according to the Long Hauler Symptom Survey, 100% of COVID patients reported fatigue that lasted after their initial illness should have resolved.
And neurological symptoms like brain fog are common as well. These can include confusion, depression, anxiety, even psychosis. In August, a study published in the Lancet found that 55% of people diagnosed with COVID-19 reported neurological symptoms three months after their diagnosis. The study's authors warned that the COVID pandemic might result in an "epidemic of brain damage," a phenomenon that also occurred after the 1918 flu pandemic.
An October study from Imperial College London found that some people infected with coronavirus might have long-term "cognitive deficits" comparable to aging the brain by 10 years.
As for why this occurs, the experts aren't entirely sure. Some studies suggest that COVID-19 may be a primarily vascular disease that damages blood vessels, which can cause inflammation in the brain or loss of blood flow. Another theory is that COVID doesn't enter the brain but causes an immune system overreaction that causes neurological damage.
How to survive this pandemic
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.