In the span of just four months, a previously unknown disease has captured the world’s collective attention and resources. We’ve taken unprecedented steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection, from shutting down schools to wearing masks in public.
So much time and research has been poured into the prevention and treatment of coronavirus that we’re overlooking a critical part of the equation: recovery.
Recovery for Mild Cases of COVID-19
No two recovery processes are identical. The overall impact of coronavirus varies greatly from patient to patient due to variables like age, underlying health, and genetics.
About 80% of people who contract coronavirus experience mild symptoms. In these cases, patients don’t need to be hospitalized and all medical care can take place using telemedicine. Mild cases of the virus most commonly cause muscle aches, fatigue, a bad cough, fever, and chest discomfort. All of these symptoms fade gradually over a span of two weeks.
When Does Isolation End for Mild Cases?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines how patients in self-quarantine can identify whether they’ve fully recovered and are permitted to discontinue isolation. All three of these conditions must be met:
- At least 72 hours have passed since recovery, defined as “resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications)
- Improvement in respiratory symptoms (i.e. coughing, shortness of breath)
- At least 7 days have passed since symptoms first appeared
If COVID-19 tests are available, patients can also use a test-based strategy to confirm recovery. Two negative test results are required, 24 hours apart, to ensure the infection is completely gone.
Recovery for Moderate to Severe Cases of COVID-19
Moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 usually require hospitalization. For patients with moderate illness, defining symptoms include shortness of breath, high fever, and severe diarrheal illness. With oxygen and IV fluid treatments over the span of a few days, most patients can recover.
Severe coronavirus cases, on the other hand, are often caused by pre-existing conditions like acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and heart disease. These patients become so sick because their bodies are already compromised and vulnerable. Most patients with severe cases of coronavirus need a few weeks on a ventilator in order to recover.
Since hospitalized patients may have longer periods of infection compared to mild cases, the CDC advises that “a test-based strategy is preferred for discontinuation of transmission-based precautions.”
Are There Long-Term Complications?
According to Dr. Kenneth Lyn-Kew, an associate professor of pulmonology and critical care medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, patients with mild and moderate cases of coronavirus tend to recover well and transition back into their normal routines without much difficulty.
Older patients and patients with severe cases of the virus, on the other hand, have a higher risk of recovery complications:
- Weight loss
- Scarring of the lungs (if on a ventilator)
- Secondary pneumonia
Despite these risks, patients who recover from COVID-19 also have the potential to save other lives. In coordination with the FDA, the Red Cross is now “seeking people who are fully recovered from the new coronavirus to sign up to donate plasma to help current COVID-19 patients.”
As the Red Cross explains, “People who have fully recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus. This convalescent plasma is being evaluated as treatment for patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections.”
With more than 54,000 patients fully recovered from COVID-19 around the country as of April 17, the antibodies exist to dramatically impact the recovery process for our nation’s most vulnerable patients.