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No longer positive, not quite recovered: What to know about the grey area after COVID-19.

Whether you've had COVID-19 or not, you'll know that it's not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. Symptoms associated with the condition are wide-ranging - and everyone's experience is different. 

And as we creep into the third year of the pandemic (*puts on brave face*), experts are learning more about the virus and the longer-term effects it may have.

Y'see, a lot of people aren't just suddenly 'better' post-COVID. It's not as straightforward as that.

Watch: You know what you need? A laugh. Here are some TV characters who would absolutely OWN the pandemic. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

Research shows that some people will experience prolonged effects of the condition - residual symptoms that can last for weeks, even months.

We're talking about everything from difficulty breathing to fatigue and even cognitive symptoms. 

People describe these symptoms as being more than just a cold, but not so bad that you need to go to the hospital.

Enter, what we like to call, 'medium COVID'. 

With more and more of us now at risk of becoming infected, we asked a medical expert to tell us everything we need to know about post-COVID recovery and when you should be concerned.

What should you expect with post-COVID-19 recovery?

As we mentioned before, recovery rates are different for everyone. "No two people are the same, so no two will have the same symptoms," explains GP Dr Imaan Joshi from Skin Essentials.

"In most people, especially if vaccinated, symptoms will be 'mild'. 'Mild' may mean few to no symptoms but it may also mean “not hospital admission unwell” and none of us knows which of those categories we’ll fall into until we get it."

When dealing with post-COVID recovery, Dr Joshi said you can expect any of the below symptoms: 

  • Fevers
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Aches and pains (muscles and joints)
  • Headaches. (With Omicron, people describe a 'crushing' headache) 
  • Low back pain (a prominent feature with Omicron's last wave is people saying they “can’t get comfortable”) 
  • Chest tightness/ pain, shortness of breath especially on exertion e.g. going to the bathroom and back 
  • Loss of taste and smell and associated lack of appetite.

Sound familiar?

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Common residual symptoms after COVID-19.

While some people will recover within days of getting COVID, especially if vaccinated, Dr Joshi said others may have symptoms that linger for weeks, and rarely, for months (which is usually considered by experts as 'long COVID').

According to Dr Joshi, some common residual symptoms you might experience post-COVID include: 

  • Persistent cough for weeks 
  • Aches and pains
  • Fatigue and lethargy 
  • Shortness of breath on exertion 
  • Loss of taste and smell and associated loss of appetite 

Dr Joshi said, "It’s important to be aware that present guidelines indicate that only people whose symptoms have largely resolved or significantly improved, may leave isolation at seven days."

"Those with persistent symptoms need to remain in isolation until significantly better for at least 24 hrs with an important caveat - a cough may persist for weeks, as may fatigue, especially on exertion."

Long-term health complications of COVID-19.

According to Dr Joshi, post-COVID-19 condition (also known as 'long COVID') can occur three months from the start of your COVID-19 symptoms, "with symptoms that last for at least three to nine months that can’t be explained with a different diagnosis."

"Even people who had a mild COVID-19 infection and weren’t hospitalised can still have 'long COVID'," said Dr Joshi.

These symptoms may even appear after a person’s initial recovery from COVID-19 or persist from the initial illness, explains Dr Joshi. "Symptoms may also change from time to time or go away and reappear."

"There’s no known treatment for 'long COVID'," said Dr Joshi. "We do not know enough yet, as this is still a new virus. What we do know is that post-COVID condition, as per the WHO, can affect a minority of people (estimates around 10 per cent)". 

"With these people, symptoms may persist into months - three to nine months, but possibly longer."

It's important to reiterate that the risk of getting 'long COVID' is not related to how severely impacted you were by the original COVID.

"In some people, symptoms may simply persist post-infection for months," said Dr Joshi. "In others, they may begin some weeks to months after everything seemed to be back to normal, and persist."

How long should it take to recover from COVID?

While experts are still studying COVID's effects in order to work out the average recovery time, according to Dr Joshi, "days to weeks" is likely to be the 'normal' timeframe of recovery post-COVID.

"If symptoms return after weeks or months, or persist for three months or more, it’s time to talk to your GP," she adds.

What should you watch out for?

Dr Joshi said it's increasingly important to remember that when it comes to COVID, the risk of reinfection is more common than you might think. 

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So, if you're actively trying to get COVID just so it's "over and done with" - think again. 

"COVID is not a one-and-done virus, like chickenpox and measles, where infection confers lifelong immunity in the vast majority," she said.

"With COVID, it’s believed immunity lasts one to six months before waning."

Meaning? Get vaccinated as soon as you’re eligible and fully recovered. 

"There is some early suggestion that reinfection may be more severe than the first time, but we don’t have enough data as yet," adds Dr Joshi.

"Even mild COVID symptoms can lead to 'long COVID' in a minority - so actively seeking to get covid is a bad idea."

When it comes to some of the different precautions you can take to avoid COVID, Dr Joshi suggests:

1. Be transparent with friends and family.

"Have upfront chats with friends and loved ones around meeting up - testing, screening, and meeting outdoors if possible."

2. Get vaccinated.

"Consider getting everyone eligible vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible or recovered from COVID." 

3. Opt for good quality masks.

"Ditch the cloth masks and buy the best quality masks you can afford - at minimum, a surgical mask."

4. Avoid crowds.

"Try to avoid eating in crowded food courts, indoors for now while we are amidst a wave."

5. Do the right thing.

"Support small business that are trying to keep you and their staff safe with robust COVID protocols."

Dr Joshi adds, "This is not over, so it’s important to temper optimism and hope with appropriate levels of care and precaution. Yes, you can still safely do many of the things that are important and give meaning to life, but modified in a way that keeps everyone safe."

"We are all tired, especially health care workers, and in clinics we are hearing of a lot of disgruntled patients getting angry at staff or presenting with COVID-like symptoms without prior screening. Please let’s all band together and help each other out."

What has been your experience when it comes to recovering from COVID? Share with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: Getty