Long COVID – a Serious Long-term Effect of Some COVID-19 Infections
Columbia University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Figurski
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
(Disclaimer: The World Health Organization <WHO> has officially named the new coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2 <severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus #2> and the disease it causes as COVID-19 <coronavirus infectious disease of 2019>. Because the majority of people, including most of the press, commonly refer to the virus as “COVID-19” or “COVID,” to avoid confusion, I use “COVID-19” as the name of the virus.)
Finally – the news I’ve been waiting for!
Bottom line: The news is good … if you’re vaccinated.
Dr. Daniel Griffin, a Columbia University infectious disease physician, has said that long COVID is a public health crisis. Several million people worldwide are living with the mysterious, often disabling, ailments of long COVID.
What is long COVID?
Everybody knows about the acute phase of COVID-19 infection. Some infections are serious and require hospitalization – and maybe intensive care. However, infected people and even the survivors of hospitalization seem to fully recover. They feel fine and test negative for the virus.
But weeks or months later, people who appear to have recovered from a COVID-19 infection may experience any one or several symptoms, which include fatigue, severe headaches, brain fog, anxiety, depression, muscle pain, cough, fever, cognitive impairment, joint pain, chest pain, shortness of breath, vertigo or loss of balance, memory issues, rash, heart palpitations, and sleep issues.
What’s worse – the symptoms can persist. No one knows when the symptoms will end. Some long COVID patients worry that their symptoms will be lifelong. Society needs to be ready for many more disabled people.
Scientists and doctors don’t know the cause.
Particularly worrisome is the fact that even asymptomatic and mild infections can lead to long COVID. Since vaccination still permits asymptomatic and mild infections but prevents the severe infections that require hospitalization, I have been concerned that long COVID can still occur with vaccination. Now it’s clear that vaccination prevents long COVID too.
Because long COVID occurs weeks or months after a COVID-19 infection, it took a while for the data on vaccination and long COVID to come out.
A recent paper submitted by an Israeli group showed there is a significant reduction (an appropriately conservative conclusion for data that showed 0 cases of long COVID) if a person was vaccinated before getting infected. In contrast, with no vaccination, about half of hospitalized COVID-19 patients will get long COVID. Vaccination after getting COVID-19 helps: Vaccination within 30 days of COVID-19 infection helps reduce the incidence of long COVID significantly. Getting vaccinated 30-60 days after COVID-19 infection helped, but not as much as within 30 days. Getting vaccinated after 90 days post COVID-19 infection does not help.
You can listen to Dr. Griffin talk about long COVID in two short segments – minutes 38:25-41:30 and 47:25-50:15 – of his clinical update in the video podcast (TWiV #856 – This Week in Virology by Columbia virologist Dr. Racaniello.
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