Asymptomatic COVID-19 and Long COVID
Long COVID is more likely to affect those who had severe symptoms during their acute COVID-19 infections. Experts say that, though it happens less frequently, mild and asymptomatic infections still come with long-term risks. In short, anyone with a COVID-19 infection can go on to experience Long COVID.*
Why are some people asymptomatic?
An infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, affects everyone differently. Some people with COVID-19 experience severe side effects and even require hospitalization, while others have no symptoms whatsoever.
How someone experiences a viral infection depends on their immune system’s ability to fight it off. Think of how a mosquito bite can cause swelling and intense itching in some people and little to no reaction in others. COVID-19 works in the same way. One person’s immune system may respond mildly, causing few or no symptoms, while someone else may experience a much larger reaction that lasts for a longer period of time.
Your immune system response depends on a number of different factors, including, among others:
- other health conditions,
- how much and which strain of the virus entered your system, and
- immunity from previous infections.
Long COVID less likely among asymptomatic infections
Evidence from one of the largest COVID-19 studies, which included over 93,000 individuals, found that older women with previous health conditions, and those who were hospitalized for COVID-19 symptoms, were at an increased risk of developing Long COVID. Researchers found that asymptomatic COVID-19 cases were less likely to lead to long-term complications.
Experts caution, however, that while those with mild or no symptoms may not be as likely to experience ongoing symptoms, there is still a chance.
“While the odds of zero harm from an asymptomatic infection are very good, there is some risk of serious illness after the infection resolves,” says Mark Loafman, M.D., physician and chair of Cook County’s Family and Community Medicine Department.
He goes on to say that even mildly affected patients could experience ongoing symptoms and other post-infection conditions ranging from a simple rash to heart complications or even paralysis.
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Vaccines may protect against long-term symptoms
In addition to limiting the spread of COVID-19, getting vaccinated may help protect against ongoing symptoms, says Loafman. It can help the immune system fight the infection in a more predictable way.
“The data on COVID vaccination—and we have a ton of it now—continues to be simply overwhelmingly favorable, with no real downside,” he adds.
Even though Long COVID is more common among those with severe COVID-19 symptoms, mild or asymptomatic infections still present a risk of long-term complications. Preventing a COVID-19 infection through vaccination and other safety measures is the only way to truly prevent Long COVID.
*Delgado, C. (2022, November 13). Can Asymptomatic COVID Infections Result in Long COVID? Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/can-asymptomatic-covid-infections-result-in-long-covid-6825912