“Craig Spencer, an emergency room doctor in New York City, was no stranger to dangerous viruses when a brush with one landed him in Bellevue Hospital for 19 days,” Julia Belluz writes over at Vox. “But it was only after he was discharged, and declared virus-free, that the really bizarre symptoms set in. Back at home, he noticed he couldn’t taste anything for several days. For months, he was tired all the time and his joints felt heavy and painful. When he woke up in the morning, his back was ‘stiff like a bamboo rod.’ His weight dropped, and clumps of hair fell out. Though the physical effects eventually faded, cognitive complications persist to this day — what he describes as ‘a subtle but noticeable difference in concentration and ability to form new memories.’ If Spencer’s constellation of ongoing symptoms — fatigue, muscle and joint pain, memory issues — sounds familiar, it’s because it has become a frightening feature of some coronavirus infections, an epidemic of long-term illness within the pandemic. For the Covid-19 ‘long-haulers,’ symptoms can persist for weeks or even months, long after being discharged from the hospital or testing positive for the virus, if they even saw a doctor or got diagnosed at all. But Spencer never had Covid-19. His persistent aches, pains, and memory problems arose after contracting Ebola in late 2014, when he was working with Doctors Without Borders in Guéckédou, Guinea, the epicenter of the West Africa Ebola epidemic. The experience led him to join the growing chorus of health professionals, patient advocates, and researchers who argue we need to reframe how we think about coronavirus long-haulers. The dominant narrative about long Covid has been that it’s a uniquely perplexing feature of Covid-19. Reports of ‘Covid brain fog’ … suggest a disturbing and extraordinary ability of the coronavirus to destroy the lives of survivors. Even a year later, some patients are still struggling to return to work or have their illness recognized, let alone access disability benefits. While there’s no doubt long Covid is a real condition worthy of diagnosis and treatment, ‘this isn’t unique to Covid,’ Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at the Yale School of Medicine, said. Covid-19 appears to be one of many infections, from Ebola to strep throat, that can give rise to stubbornly persistent symptoms in an unlucky subset of patients. ‘If Covid didn’t cause chronic symptoms to occur in some people,’ PolyBio Research Foundation microbiologist Amy Proal told Vox, “it would be the only virus that didn’t do that.'” Julia Belluz, “Long Covid isn’t as unique as we thought,” Vox.
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded... More by Jeanne Pinder