COVID-19: from an acute to chronic disease? Potential long-term health consequences

Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2021 Aug;58(5):297-310. doi: 10.1080/10408363.2020.1860895. Epub 2020 Dec 21.


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Despite pulmonary impairments being the most prevalent, extra-pulmonary manifestations of COVID-19 are abundant. Confirmed COVID-19 cases have now surpassed 57.8 million worldwide as of 22 November 2020. With estimated case fatality rates (number of deaths from COVID-19 divided by number of confirmed COVID-19 cases) varying between 1 and 7%, there will be a large population of recovered COVID-19 patients that may acquire a multitude of long-term health consequences. While the multi-organ manifestations of COVID-19 are now well-documented, the potential long-term implications of these manifestations remain to be uncovered. In this review, we turn to previous similar coronaviruses (i.e. SARS-CoV-1 and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus [MERS-CoV]) in combination with known health implications of SARS-CoV-2 infection to predict potential long-term effects of COVID-19, including pulmonary, cardiovascular, hematologic, renal, central nervous system, gastrointestinal, and psychosocial manifestations, in addition to the well-known post-intensive care syndrome. It is necessary to monitor COVID-19 patients after discharge to understand the breadth and severity of long-term effects. This can be accomplished by repurposing or initiating large cohort studies to not only focus on the long-term consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection, but also on acquired immune function as well as ethno-racial group and household income disparities in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The future for COVID-19 survivors remains uncertain, and if this virus circulates among us for years to come, long-term effects may accumulate exponentially.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; chronic effects; long-COVID; pandemic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • Chronic Disease*
  • Coronavirus Infections
  • Critical Illness
  • Humans
  • Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome
  • SARS-CoV-2

Supplementary concepts

  • postintensive care syndrome