Symptom timelines surrounding COVID infection tend to center on either the immediate 5-day quarantine protocols for acute infection or the long-COVID symptoms that can last a month or potentially far longer.
People may return to work or daily routines, but something is off: What had been simple exercise regimens become onerous. Everyday tasks take more effort.
Does this ill-defined subset point to a “medium COVID?”
Farha Ikramuddin, MD, MHA, a physiatrist and rehabilitation specialist at the University of Minnesota and M Health Fairview in Minneapolis, points out there is no definition or diagnostic code or shared official understanding of a middle category for COVID.
“But am I seeing that? Absolutely,” she said in an interview.
“I have seen patients who are younger, healthier, [and] with not so many comorbidities have either persistence of symptoms or reappearance after the initial infection is done,” she said.
Some patients report they had very low infection or were nonsymptomatic and returned to their normal health fairly quickly after infection. Then a week later they began experiencing fatigue, lost appetite, loss of smell, and feeling full after a few bites, Dr. Ikramuddin said.
Part of the trouble in categorizing the space between returning to normal after a week and having symptoms for months is that organizations can’t agree on a timeline for when symptoms warrant a “long-COVID” label.
“I’m seeing ‘medium COVID’ – as one would call it – in younger and healthier patients. I’m also noticing that these symptoms are not severe enough to warrant stopping their job or changing their job schedules,” Dr. Ikramuddin said.
They go back to work, she said, but start noticing something is off.
“I am seeing that.”
“I discharge at least two patients a week from my clinic because they have moved on and no longer have symptoms,” Dr. Ikramuddin said.
In a story from Kaiser Health News published last month, WHYY health reporter Nina Feldman writes: “What I’ve come to think of as my ‘medium COVID’ affected my life. I couldn’t socialize much, drink, or stay up past 9:30 p.m. It took me 10 weeks to go for my first run – I’d been too afraid to try.”
She described a dinner with a friend after ending initial isolation protocols: “One glass of wine left me feeling like I’d had a whole bottle. I was bone-achingly exhausted but couldn’t sleep.”
Dr. Ikramuddin notes the mechanism behind prolonged COVID-19 symptoms is still a medical mystery.
“Right now, instead of getting more answers, we’re getting more questions,” Dr. Ikramuddin said.
Mouhib Naddour, MD, a pulmonary specialist with Sharp HealthCare in San Diego, said he’s seeing that it’s taking some patients who have had COVID longer to recover than it would for other viral infections.
Some patients fall between those recovering within 2-3 weeks and patients having long COVID. Those patients in the gap could be lumped into a middle-range COVID, he told this news organization.
“We try to put things into tables and boxes but it is hard with this disease,” Dr. Naddour said.
He agrees there’s no medical definition for “medium” COVID, but he said the idea should bring hope for patients to know that, if their symptoms are persisting they don’t necessarily have long COVID – and their symptoms may still disappear.
“This is an illness that may take longer to completely recover from,” he said. “The majority of patients we’re seeing in this group could be healthy young patients who get COVID, then 2-3 weeks after they test negative, still have lingering symptoms.”