What To Expect When Recovering From COVID-19

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: April 14, 2020

We’ve all heard the heartbreaking stories of COVID-19 deaths, but we know most who get the virus will experience mild symptoms and a full recovery. So, what is it like to recover from COVID-19?

We’ll never know the exact number of survivors since many countries don’t track recoveries. But many of those who have overcome the infection have reported a wide range of symptoms that linger long after they have fought off the virus.

COVID-19 outcomes vary based on a range of factors, including age and pre-existing conditions. Of those treated at home, many survivors report recovery is very much like the flu. Even after patients are considered “recovered” and are no longer contagious, they may still have a mild cough. Many patients have reported severe fatigue that starts at the onset of the infection and lasts through recovery and beyond.

Some survivors have also reported congestion, and a loss of taste and smell are lingering symptoms. And some of those who have overcome the infection are still dealing with breathing issues long after other symptoms have faded.

For survivors wondering how long to isolate once they have recovered from COVID-19, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued guidance to help survivors decide when to end isolation. The guidelines advise isolation can discontinue after three days of being fever-free and improvement of symptoms for at least seven days after symptoms first appeared. The CDC cautions this guidance is based on an ever-evolving situation, so the guidelines could change as the CDC learns more about COVID-19.

Many survivors think they are immune to COVID-19 once they have recovered from the virus. The CDC says the immune response is not yet fully understood, and the immune response to other infections can last for a lifetime or barely at all, depending on the contagion. So those who have overcome COVID-19 should still practice social distancing and avoid interacting with high-risk individuals until more is known.

It is still too early to tell what the long-term impacts of COVID-19 will be on survivors, but scientists and doctors are studying the situation carefully. The very first survivors were infected in December, so they are less than six months out from the onset of the illness. Some of those placed on a ventilator during hospitalization may experience decreased lung capacity. According to a report in the South China Morning Post, researchers in Hong Kong have found that some may suffer from a 20 to 30 percent drop in lung function and gasp for air when they walk. Some who spent time on a ventilator may have also suffered from cognitive impairments, mental health problems, and muscle atrophy.

Despite the fear and confusion surrounding what COVID-19 recovery can and does look like, clarity is likely around the corner as researchers closely follow the growing cohort of patients who are no longer infected. As therapies- both in the acute phase and the recovery phase- also evolve, there is hope that future infections will become less severe and less long-lasting.

Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of its publication. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving. We are working to keep our stories up-to-date as changes occur, but we also encourage everyone to check news and recommendations from the CDC, WHO and local authorities.