Pandemic Perspective #32   October 31, 2020

Long COVID – an attempt to shed a little light

            Among the many new features of COVID-19 is a condition referred to as Long COVID. Persons recovering from infection with SARS-CoV-2, even those who have had no symptoms but who have evidence of recent infection with this new coronavirus may develop long-lasting symptoms that include severe fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle weakness and inability to concentrate. Many of these victims are unable to return to work and complain of a poor quality of life.

            Chronic fatigue that lasts for months has been observed following viral infections such as infectious mononucleosis and even the SARS outbreak of 2002. The massive number of COVID-19 victims has resulted in so many people with this new syndrome, Long COVID, that it has become relatively common, affecting more than 80 percent of persons in one study who were sick enough to be hospitalized. The actual number will never be known; many victims of the current coronavirus have no symptoms and the condition can easily be attributed to other conditions including another poorly understood illness, chronic fatigue syndrome.

            There is concern in the medical community that this condition may last not for months, but for years. Considering that so many victims of COVID-19 are elderly and have one or more underling conditions, including hypertension, heart disease, disorders affecting the brain, chronic lung or kidney disease and diabetes, the picture becomes extremely complicated.

            There is another long-lasting condition following severe coronavirus among persons who have required ventilator therapy. In addition to the damage caused by the virus itself, there are sometimes adverse effects from the high pressures needed to provide lifesaving oxygen. Recovery from the damage may take many months but it is not to be confused with Long COVID, although some patients may experience both conditions.

            There is yet another long-term problem that may occur in the course of a COVID-19 illness although it is not unique to this disease. The enormous number of persons who have required management of their illness in an intensive care unit has brought increased attention to the problems experienced by such patients. Whether admission to these specialized units is required after COVID-19, an automobile accident, a severe infection or a heart attack, survivors sometimes experience months of depression, weakness, anxiety, poor sleep and nightmares. It is known as PICS (Post-Intensive Care Syndrome).

            The coronavirus pandemic has delivered an unwelcome cornucopia of unforeseen complications, disappointments in attempts at treatment and wavering faith in the opinions of medical experts. The New Year bringing the promise of effective vaccines can’t get here soon enough!

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