More than two and a half years into the COVID-19 pandemic, chances are good that no matter what precautions you've taken, you've had it at least once. The CDC estimates that more than 60% of the US population has contracted COVID-19 thus far; other estimates put that percentage closer to 80% or even higher. Because so many people now test at home and don't report positive results, getting accurate statistics is becoming increasingly difficult. Even so, while there's no doubt that the majority of the US population has been infected, it's also clear that there’s a small (and shrinking) percentage of people who have so far managed to dodge COVID-19.
Scientists continue to study trends and the possibility that some people have a natural super-immunity to the virus. And while that may be protecting a small number of people who believe they've escaped it, another scenario is also very likely: people have had COVID-19 without knowing it. The latest information shows that it's more common than you might think.
In the earliest days of the pandemic (late winter and spring of 2020), testing wasn't widespread. Many people who thought they had a cold or flu during that period could have actually had COVID-19, and assuming they recovered quickly, never had a test or received treatment. Many others could have been completely asymptomatic, with no immediate or long-term effects. Still others could have shown mild or no symptoms initially, only to experience signs of long COVID many weeks or months later. Without ever testing positive for COVID-19, these symptoms may have been chalked up to something else.
If you've been vaccinated, boosted, and have never tested positive or shown symptoms of COVID-19 – congratulations: you are either one of the rare individuals to have evaded COVID-19 or you had a very mild infection that didn't slow you down. Now your best bet is to remain vigilant and continue to follow guidelines for boosters and other protocols to help you remain healthy. But, if you've never tested positive yet experience any of these chronic symptoms, it's time to talk to your doctor to see if you might have long COVID:
- Unusual fatigue that doesn’t resolve after adequate sleep
- A chronic cough that has lingered for more than three weeks
- A change in your sense of taste or smell
- Dizziness when standing up
- Difficulty concentrating (brain fog)
Keep in mind that people who experience long COVID are more likely to have been seriously ill with the virus initially. However, it's still possible to have complications weeks or months after being infected – even if you didn't feel ill at the time. That's why it's important to talk to your doctor if you have any new or chronic symptoms. They can order specific antibody tests to help determine if a prior infection is the cause, and then determine appropriate treatment.
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This article first appeared in the July/August 2022 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.