As much as I enjoy taking a break from pandemic news from time to time, today, I want to alert you to an emerging threat that even I was not particularly aware of.
In fact, it wasn’t really on my radar until about a month ago, when I had a patient come to my office presenting with long–term complications of COVID-19.
Shining a light on “long COVID”
Putting the two phrases “long-term” and “COVID-19” together may seem odd, given that this virus has only been with us for about a year.
But already, the medical community is seeing people who are suffering from ongoing symptomatic cases of COVID-19. (In this case, experiencing symptoms as long as 12 weeks after the start of acute illness.)
For these patients, we are now using the diagnosis “post-COVID syndrome” or “long COVID.” In fact, the patient I recently saw still had symptoms since becoming ill nearly a year ago, at the very end of February 2020.
She’s not alone, either. According to the latest research, one in five people with COVID-19 will go on to develop longer term symptoms. And around 10 percent will still suffer symptoms long after 12 weeks—the most common being fatigue, cough, and headache.
My patient not only had all of those symptoms, but she still has yet to regain her sense of taste or smell, either. She also suffered shortness of breath and heart palpitations, which kept her from getting back to the gym. Which is a hard pill for her to swallow—especially because, prior to the pandemic, this woman was the very picture of good health.
Now, I bring this up today because there’s a program currently underway in the U.K. to identify and provide critical services to patients that fall into the “long COVID” category—in the hopes that they will eventually fully recover.
But of course, there isn’t any talk of the sort in the U.S.—even as our pandemic rages on without an end in sight, due to a woefully botched response.
Recovery starts at home
Unfortunately, we’re still in triage mode here—with precious healthcare resources devoted daily to a flood of new patients (many of whom ended up sick because they flouted all the guidelines in the first place).
Nevertheless, this new focus on long COVID highlights the importance of keeping the public and patients informed—so that they know that longer illness is a possibility, and that they should seek help accordingly.
Indeed, public awareness is vital to preempt anxiety in patients who don’t recover the way that they expect to—especially given the wide range of symptoms related to long COVID, and the way that these symptoms appear to fluctuate.
And as a health care worker myself, I’ll be the first to advocate for the importance of telling people what to expect—including what could potentially happen to them.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that message has seeped into the American consciousness just yet. Especially if you still think that COVID-19 is nothing more than a regular flu. In fact, the potential for long-term consequences may be the starkest difference between the two viruses.
So you know what? It’s time to wake up, America!
Do you know how much quicker this could be over if we weren’t starting our vaccination roll-outs with hundreds of thousands of people already infected—and with hundreds of thousands more expected to die?
Even as we take our first slow steps toward recovery, I urge everyone to think of all of the front–line workers who will be grappling with the aftershocks of their own COVID infections, along with a hefty dose of PTSD, when all of this is finally over.
So the next time you hear someone wave off COVID-19 as “just the flu” or “not a big deal”… I want you to remember today’s conversation.
Personally, I’m struggling to watch all of these needless infections keep rising, simply because we can’t make a few collective lifestyle changes. So for the millionth time, and certainly not the last: Wear a mask and wash your hands—or better yet, stay home (even if you feel fine).
In the meantime, continue boosting your immune health throughout this pandemic. For my top immune-boosting tips, check out my Complete Guide to Year-Round Immunity.
“NICE Issues Rapid Guideline on Long COVID.” Medscape Medical News, 12/18/2020. (medscape.com/viewarticle/942893)