Scientists haven’t figured out long Covid. Here are 5 of their best hypotheses.

From disturbing the gut microbiome to lingering in the brain, there are many ways the coronavirus might cause lasting symptoms.

Most people who get the coronavirus will fully recover and go right back to their lives. But the latest research suggests that at least 10 percent have long-term symptoms, even after their body has apparently cleared the virus.

The condition, known as “long Covid,” has emerged as a scary feature of the pandemic — a reminder that even as hospitalizations and deaths come down, millions of people will continue to suffer from the aftermath of infection.

And, as it turns out, “this isn’t unique to Covid,” Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at the Yale School of Medicine, told Vox.

Instead, Covid-19 appears to be one of many infections, from Ebola to strep throat, that can give rise to stubborn symptoms in an unlucky subset of patients. “It is more typical than not that a virus infection leads to long-lasting symptoms in some fraction of individuals,” Iwasaki said.

The difference now is that, with 137 million Covid-19 cases worldwide and counting, long-haulers are more visible: Their suffering has come on in unprecedented numbers. It’s also possible the coronavirus causes long-term symptoms even more frequently than other infections.

In this week’s episode of Unexplainable, we dive into what we know about long Covid and what other viruses can teach us about the condition, including the leading hypotheses for what might be driving symptoms in Covid long-haulers.


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