Americans scared of contracting the coronavirus or chafing against lockdowns have been assured that help is on the way in the form of vaccines. But people who’ve already been infected with COVID-19 and are experiencing long-term symptoms need help too, and urgently, public health experts said this week.
The federal government held its first workshop, a two-day meeting sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.), on long-term COVID, the New York Times reported. At the workshop, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, called long COVID “a phenomenon that is really real and quite extensive.”
Hundreds of Thousands” May Have Long-Lasting Symptoms That Change Their Lives Forever
It’s unclear how many people are COVID “long-hauliers,” but Fauci warned, “it is going to represent a significant public health issue.”
Dr. John Brooks, the chief medical officer of the CDC’s COVID response, said the number of long-term COVID sufferers could reach “tens of thousands in the United States and possibly hundreds of thousands.”
But like COVID itself, the long-term symptoms are poorly understood, and potential remedies are largely unknown. “If you were to ask me what do we know about this post-acute phase, I really am hard-pressed to tell you that we know much,” said Brooks. “This is what we’re really working on epidemiologically to understand what is it, how many people get it, how long does it last, what causes it, who does it affect, and then of course, what can we do to prevent it from happening.”
Many Symptoms, Few Answers
Just as with acute infection, there are dozens of potential symptoms of long COVID, including fatigue, breathing problems, heart inflammation, neurological issues like “brain fog,” headaches, and muscle pain.
A Baltimore woman who spoke at the workshop—who has been unemployed since March with long COVID symptoms including the loss of vision in one eye—said she’s had trouble getting doctors to take her seriously, the Times reported.”It’s been a harrowing task, and the task and the journey continues,” she said.
A member of the long-term COVID group Body Politic said that in a survey of 3,800 members in 56 countries, 85 per cent reported “cognitive dysfunction,” 81 per cent experienced “numbness and other neurological sensations,” almost half had speech and language problems, and nearly 75 percent had some difficulty at work, the Times said.
An Italian study released in July found that nearly 90% of people who recovered from COVID-19 reported at least one persistent symptom two months later.
The World Health Organization is slated to begin studying the long-term effects of COVID-19. In a November interview with the Washington Post, Fauci said the National Institutes of Health would also be investigating the phenomenon and that 25 to 30 percent of people infected with COVID experience what he called “post-COVID syndrome.”
How to Not Catch COVID During the Pandemic
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest