(Jennifer Couzin-Frankel/ Science) — Athena Akrami’s neuroscience lab reopened last month without her. Life for the 38-year-old is a pale shadow of what it was before 17 March, the day she first experienced symptoms of the novel coronavirus. At University College London (UCL), Akrami’s students probe how the brain organizes memories to support learning, but at home, she struggles to think clearly and battles joint and muscle pain. “I used to go to the gym three times a week,” Akrami says. Now, “My physical activity is bed to couch, maybe couch to kitchen.”
Her early symptoms were textbook for COVID-19: a fever and cough, followed by shortness of breath, chest pain, and extreme fatigue. For weeks, she struggled to heal at home. But rather than ebb with time, Akrami’s symptoms waxed and waned without ever going away. She’s had just 3 weeks since March when her body temperature was normal.
“Everybody talks about a binary situation, you either get it mild and recover quickly, or you get really sick and wind up in the ICU,” says Akrami, who falls into neither category. Thousands echo her story in online COVID-19 support groups. Outpatient clinics for survivors are springing up, and some are already overburdened. Akrami has been waiting more than 4 weeks to be seen at one of them, despite a referral from her general practitioner.
The list of lingering maladies from COVID-19 is longer and more varied than most doctors could have imagined. Ongoing problems include fatigue, a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, achy joints, foggy thinking, a persistent loss of sense of smell, and damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain. (…)