On Tuesday, the Biden administration announced that it would make long-term covid a national priority. He unveiled a plan to accelerate efforts to prevent, treat and detect prolonged Covid through a national interagency research action program.
In February, the National Institutes of Health announced a $1.15 billion initiative to support research on the condition over four years.
A lot of research is needed to find answers to all the questions about prolonged Covid.
There is no cure or specific treatment; there isn’t even a test for it. Scientists still don’t fully understand what the symptoms are, how long they last, or why some people get it and others don’t. They haven’t even decided on a name: long covid, post-covid, long haul, post-acute covid, or chronic covid.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines long-term COVID as health problems that last four or more weeks after a COVID-19 infection. The World Health Organization definition adds that the symptoms should not be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
It is not clear exactly how many people have Covid for a long time. Estimates range from 5% to 80% of those who become infected with the coronavirus. The condition can affect people of all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities.
Some may develop prolonged Covid after a mild infection or even after an infection without any symptoms. They may have symptoms for a short period of time or for years.
Scientists don’t fully agree on which symptoms count as Covid for a long time.
The CDC’s list of physical symptoms includes shortness of breath, fatigue, trouble sleeping, cough, chest and stomach pain, headache, racing heart and other heart problems, high blood pressure, joint pain, and muscles, tingling sensation under the skin. , fever, dizziness, rash, diarrhea, change in menstrual cycle, type 2 diabetes, hair loss, rash, blurred or double vision, and ongoing loss of sense of smell or taste.
Long Covid can also cause mental health issues.
People report unexplained mood swings, brain fog or trouble thinking, memory problems, difficulties with language and general cognition, and PTSD. Dozens of studies have also shown that long-term Covid patients report long-term depression and anxiety that they did not have before they were infected. Others report psychosis and suicidal behavior. Some research has found that people with prolonged covid have opioid use disorder and problems with the use of other drugs.
Some studies suggest that the virus is associated with physical changes in the brain, and that may be what is causing some of these problems.
Symptoms can come and go over time, according to the World Health Organization. They can be so extreme that they are debilitating. As of July, the US government determined that prolonged covid could be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It is not entirely clear why Covid develops for a long time. As the disease can affect any organ system, there can be multiple reasons.
In some people, it may be due to direct cell damage caused by Covid-19. For others, long-term problems such as muscle weakness or cognitive problems may develop after being hospitalized for Covid-19 for a prolonged period. Symptoms can also persist because the immune system overreacts and doesn’t slow down after an infection clears.
Scientists are working on drugs that could treat prolonged Covid and tests to diagnose it.
Clinics to treat Covid have long popped up across the country, though the CDC says primary care doctors can help, too.
Patient advocates suggest that some doctors have dismissed patient concerns as psychological rather than physical in nature.
The CDC advises medical professionals to listen and validate a patient’s experience if they have long-term symptoms. He encourages clinicians to be particularly sensitive to people from marginalized populations who have been disproportionately affected by covid, as their long-term symptoms may be underdiagnosed.
Physicians are also encouraged to partner with a patient to help them identify achievable goals in recovery. Patients may also be offered supportive care that may include physical or occupational therapy, mental health counseling, speech therapy, or even breathing exercises.
During treatment, people may be asked to keep diaries and calendars to document changes in their symptoms, especially if something seems to trigger them.
A study published in January says that one thing that could help people with prolonged covid is to get vaccinated if they haven’t already. It found that people who received the vaccine were 54% less likely to report headaches, 64% less likely to report fatigue, and 68% less likely to report muscle pain than unvaccinated people.
The best way to avoid prolonged covid, doctors say, is to avoid getting covid-19 in the first place. Some studies suggest that even with advanced infection, the risk of prolonged covid is much lower for people who are fully vaccinated.