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Post-COVID-19 Long Haulers’ Disease May Mimic ME/CFS

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Persistent disease after an acute illness is a fact of life. Some diseases, like myalgic encephalitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), have a well-known profile but an unknown specific trigger. ME/CFS may persist for years, carrying with it social stigma, financial ruin, and personal loss. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes the disease known as COVID-19, is producing a pandemic as it presents within a spectrum of symptoms from asymptomatic to mild to severe disease.

Early in 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, a certain percentage of COVID-19-infected patients began complaining of persistent symptoms, particularly fatigue, brain fog, low-grade fever, chest pain, muscle discomfort, sweats, persisting anosmia and dysgeusia, and more. 1 These post-viral sequelae of COVID-19 resembled the disease ME/CFS, so researchers were very eager to record and understand the duration and progression of sequelae in post-COVID-19 illness in those who adopted the term long haulers.

Several early studies had followed COVID-19 patients for one or three months and found that the persistence of symptoms occurred in 4% to 10% of patients with symptomatic illness. Now comes a more recent report from Dr. Helen Y. Chu’s group from the division of allergy and infectious diseases at the University of Washington in Seattle. The 177 patients in the Seattle study were those who reported symptoms up to 110 days after illness as compared to the 21 healthy controls.

Participants were 234 patients with COVID-19 between August and November 2020 who completed subsequent questionnaires between three and nine months after their COVID-19 illness. Data analysis used R Project for Statistical Computing, version 4.0.2.

There were 177/224 COVID-19 patients who completed the survey, with 6% asymptomatic, 85% outpatients, and 9.0% hospitalized. Surveys were completed between 31 and 300 days. There were 82/177 (46%) who reported persistent symptoms. The most common persistent...