What We Know About Long Covid So Far (2022)

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

Daily Covid Briefing

There is no universal definition of the complex condition, but clues about causes and potential treatments are beginning to emerge.

  • Send any friend a story

    As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.

    (Video) What We Know About Long COVID: Symptoms, Causes, Conditions

  • 375

What We Know About Long Covid So Far (1)

By Knvul Sheikh and Pam Belluck

Leer en español

Among the many confounding aspects of Covid is the spectrum of possible symptoms, as well as their severity and duration. Some people develop mild illness and recover quickly, with no lasting effects. But a recent analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that nearly one in five American adults who have had Covid still struggle with at least one lingering symptom months after their initial bout with the coronavirus. Another global study estimates the number is much higher, around 50 percent.

(Video) Long COVID and Post-infection Syndromes: What We Know So Far

The array of post-infection symptoms people experience varies widely and is known collectively as long Covid. One patient-led research group evaluated as many as 203 symptoms that may fluctuate or appear out of the blue after people seem to have recovered. Even those who experienced mild or moderate illness can experience debilitating long-term symptoms.

As Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, the chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Healthcare System and a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, said, “If you’ve seen one patient with long Covid, you’ve seen one patient with long Covid.”

What are some of the symptoms of long Covid?

The C.D.C. defines long Covid as any set of health problems that are still occurring four weeks after the initial coronavirus infection. This can include ongoing fatigue that interferes with daily life, shortness of breath, joint or muscle pain, persistent rashes, hair loss, changes in smell or taste, an erratic heart rate, pins-and-needles feelings, dizziness when you stand up, unusual changes in menstrual cycles, depression and difficulty thinking or concentrating, which is sometimes called brain fog.

The World Health Organization, however, starts the clock for these long Covid symptoms three months after the original bout of illness or positive test result. And some researchers and health care providers use other time frames, making efforts to study and quantify the condition more difficult, said Dr. Al-Aly, who has conducted many studies on long Covid issues.

How do doctors diagnose long Covid?

When patients experiencing persistent symptoms go to their doctors, tests like electrocardiograms, chest X-rays, CT scans and blood work don’t always identify physiological problems, Dr. Al-Aly said. Researchers are working to pinpoint certain biological factors, called biomarkers, that correlate with persistent Covid symptoms. These could include signs of inflammation or certain molecules produced by the immune system that might be measured by blood tests, for example.

For now, doctors must rely on their patients’ descriptions of symptoms and rule out alternative explanations or causes. Some post-Covid clinics have multidisciplinary teams of specialists evaluate patients to figure out the best treatment options.

What causes long Covid?

It’s unclear what exactly drives long Covid, but research has begun to offer some clues. Some experts theorize that an immune response that goes into overdrive when you first get sick may lead to inflammation and damage throughout the body, eventually resulting in long Covid symptoms, said Dr. Michael Peluso, an infectious disease physician at the University of California, San Francisco.

“We know that during acute Covid-19, some people have a really revved-up immune response and some people have a reduced immune response, and that response can determine the trajectory of how well somebody does,” he said.

Another explanation, experts say, could be that your immune system never fully shuts down after the initial infection.

Read More on the Coronavirus Pandemic

  • Updated Boosters for Kids: The Food and Drug Administration broadened access to updated Covid booster shots to include children as young as 5.
  • Long Covid: A study of tens of thousands of people in Scotland found that one in 20 who had been sick with Covid reported not recovering at all, and another four in 10 said they had not fully recovered many months later.
  • A Persistent Variant: Ten months have passed since Omicron’s debut. Since then it has displayed a remarkable capacity to evolve new tricks.
  • ‘Anti-Vax’ Capital No More: Vaccine skeptics once found a home in Marin County, Calif. Now, the pandemic has made them unwelcome, as Covid vaccine rates soar there.

Who is at risk?

Research offers some hints about which patients might face a greater risk of long-term symptoms. In a study of 209 patients published in January, researchers found four factors that could be identified early in a person’s coronavirus infection that appeared to correlate with an increased risk of having ongoing symptoms two to three months later.

One factor was the level of coronavirus RNA in the blood early in the infection, an indicator of viral load. Another was the presence of autoantibodies — antibodies that mistakenly attack tissues in the body as they do in conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. A third factor was the reactivation of Epstein-Barr virus, which can cause mononucleosis and infects most people, often when they are young, and then usually becomes dormant.

(Video) Long Covid: What We Know So Far

The fourth factor was having Type 2 diabetes, although experts say that in studies involving larger numbers of patients, diabetes might be only one of several medical conditions that increase the risk of long Covid.

Studies from post-Covid clinics have also found other pre-existing medical conditions that may put people at risk for long Covid. In a report on the first 100 patients treated for neurological and cognitive symptoms at a post-Covid clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, 42 percent reported previously having depression or anxiety, though such patients might simply be more comfortable seeking neurological treatment, doctors said. Other pre-existing conditions included autoimmune diseases and headaches.

Studies also suggest that the risk of developing long Covid peaks in middle age, Dr. Peluso said. The average age of patients in the Northwestern study was 43. An analysis of 78,252 private health insurance claims across the United States found that people between the ages of 36 and 64 made up about two-thirds of the long Covid patients. (But that study did not include most Medicare recipients, so it involved relatively few older patients.)

Women may be disproportionately affected, with some studies finding that about 60 percent of patients are female. A similar pattern has emerged in other long-term conditions like ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome), which has several symptoms similar to those of long Covid.

Because the pandemic has had a significant impact on Black and Latino communities in the United States, and those groups have more limited access to medical care, they may have high numbers of long Covid cases as well, Dr. Peluso said.

Can vaccines protect against long Covid?

The picture is still coming into focus, but several studies suggest that getting a Covid vaccine can reduce — but not eliminate — the risk of longer-term symptoms.

The United Kingdom’s Health Security Agency conducted an analysis of eight studies that had looked at vaccines and long Covid before mid-January. Six found that vaccinated people who then became infected with the coronavirus were less likely than unvaccinated patients to develop symptoms of long Covid. The remaining two studies found that vaccination did not appear to conclusively reduce the chances of developing long Covid.

In that analysis, one study, which has not been peer-reviewed, of about 240,000 U.S. patients found that those who had received even one dose of a Covid vaccine before their infections were seven to 10 times less likely than unvaccinated patients to report symptoms of long Covid 12 to 20 weeks later. But another large study of electronic patient records at the U.S. Veterans Health Administration, also not yet peer reviewed, found that those who were vaccinated had only a 13 percent lower risk than unvaccinated patients of having symptoms six months later. Vaccinated patients mostly benefited by being less likely to develop lung problems and blood-clotting difficulties, said Dr. Al-Aly, one of the study’s authors.

“Reliance on vaccination as a sole mitigation strategy is wholly inadequate,” Dr. Al-Aly said. “It is like going to battle with a shield that only partially works.”

Seeking medical care

If you are concerned about any lingering symptoms after a confirmed or suspected coronavirus infection, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Checking in with your primary care provider is a good first step. More doctors are becoming aware of long Covid symptoms and can recommend tests that might at least rule out other causes of your symptoms.

“Even though we say that long Covid is when symptoms last for a month or three months after infection, you don’t have to wait that long to get help,” Dr. Al-Aly said. “People should really honor their symptoms.”

If you’re not getting help from a primary care doctor, you may want to seek out a post-Covid clinic, though Dr. Al-Aly acknowledged that “it’s easier said than done.” Access to post-Covid clinics can be difficult for those without adequate medical insurance. And, in some states, people may have to travel hundreds of miles to get to the nearest one. You can look up post-Covid clinics near you on the Survivor Corps database.

(Video) Long COVID: what we know and what we can do

Bring your medical records if you’re visiting a new provider and make a list of all your symptoms, especially if you’re experiencing cognitive issues and are likely to forget some health concerns when your appointment comes around.

Some long Covid issues can be managed with existing medications or treatments for symptoms like headaches or gastrointestinal problems. Physical therapy and “cognitive rehab,” including approaches often used for patients who have experienced strokes or brain injuries, can also be helpful over time. Some people benefit from tailored physical and mental health rehabilitation services and breathing exercises, which can help them slowly build back strength and endurance for physical activities.

Other possible tools against long Covid, including antiviral treatments, are only beginning to be studied. The National Institutes of Health is devoting more than $1 billion to a major research effort called the Recover Initiative, but progress has been slow so far. Lawmakers are pushing for better funding for long Covid research and medical care.

Several groups, such as Body Politic, Long Covid Alliance and Survivor Corps, provide emotional support, as well as resources for seeking treatment, disability benefits and patient advocacy.

People with long Covid may also want to consider joining a research trial, Dr. Peluso said. You may be able to find continuing clinical studies at universities and academic centers near you, or sign up to be part of the Recover Initiative.

“Participating in research can be very empowering,” Dr. Peluso said.

Applying for disability benefits for long Covid

Although the options for care are slowly increasing, it is still impossible to know how long someone with long Covid will remain ill. As many as 4 million Americans may be unable to work because of their illness, according to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.

If your long Covid symptoms are affecting your ability to work, it is important to document exactly what is happening so you can apply for federal assistance sooner rather than later. Americans with long Covid can qualify for disability benefits under the Americans with Disabilities Act if their symptoms significantly limit one or more major life activity, such as the ability to care for yourself, walk, sit, speak, breath, concentrate, communicate with others or work. You may also qualify if your symptoms limit the normal functioning of a major bodily function, such as the cardiovascular system, neurological system or a particular organ.

But the process to get federal benefits, like Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income, can take awhile. Many people need to show that they have been unable to work and have had health conditions for a year or that their difficulties are expected to last at least a year. And there is a five-month waiting period before you can begin receiving benefits.

Many advocacy groups are pushing for changes to these rules. In the meantime, there are other options you can also explore: Contact your employer’s human resources department to find out if you qualify for help under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA); inquire about short-term disability coverage, which can provide you with a portion of your paycheck and extend health insurance for a few months; and try applying for long-term disability coverage, which can help you with payments for a few years.

/

Advertisement

Continue reading the main story

(Video) What we know about Long COVID | A/Prof Anthony Byrne

FAQs

How long does long COVID last? ›

Healthcare professionals may refer to long COVID as: ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 (4 to 12 weeks) post-COVID-19 syndrome (over 12 weeks)

What does long COVID feel like? ›

Symptoms of long COVID

extreme tiredness (fatigue) shortness of breath. loss of smell. muscle aches.

How long after Covid do you get long COVID? ›

Most COVID infections get better within the first 4 weeks. Medical professionals say there are two types of long COVID: Ongoing symptomatic COVID: When COVID symptoms carry on for 4 to 12 weeks. Post-COVID Syndrome: When COVID symptoms carry on for over 12 weeks.

What vitamins should I take for long COVID? ›

You may wish to take a one-a-day A-Z multivitamin and mineral supplement, of no more than 100% recommended intake. Some people with Long Covid believe that high doses of vitamins, such as niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin C, vitamin D, quercetin and zinc improve their symptoms.

How do you fight long COVID fatigue? ›

UC Davis Health clinical psychologists have tips for coping with COVID fatigue:
  1. Exercise to help cope with COVID-19. ...
  2. Talk about your frustrations. ...
  3. Engage in constructive thinking. ...
  4. Practice mindfulness and gratitude. ...
  5. Take it day by day or even moment by moment. ...
  6. Be compassionate with yourself. ...
  7. Find things to look forward to.

Does Omicron cause long COVID? ›

Scientists have just begun to compare variants head to head, with varying results. While one recent study in The Lancet suggests that omicron is less likely to cause long covid, another found the same rate of neurological problems after omicron and delta infections.

Are you contagious if you have long COVID? ›

Am I Contagious if I Have Long COVID? No. Conditions associated long COVID cannot be passed on to others.

When you have long COVID do you test positive? ›

While most people with post-COVID conditions have evidence of infection or COVID-19 illness, in some cases, a person with post-COVID conditions may not have tested positive for the virus or known they were infected.

How long does Covid fatigue last after? ›

How long does fatigue last after COVID-19? Your recovery from COVID-related fatigue will likely depend on how severe your illness was. After a mild case of COVID-19 your fatigue may clear up after about 2-3 weeks. But if you had a severe case, it's possible to feel sluggish and tired for months.

What does your throat feel like with COVID? ›

Well, it can feel exactly the same as a cold, according to Brian Curtis, MD, vice president of Clinical Specialty Services for OSF HealthCare. That makes it hard to tell the difference between a cold and a mild case of COVID. It's even harder to tell the difference knowing that sore throat is a COVID symptom.

How long does immunity last after COVID? ›

(2021). Naturally acquired SARS-CoV-2 immunity persists for up to 11 months following infection. The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

What is Covid fatigue like? ›

Symptoms of Post-COVID fatigue generally mirror those of chronic fatigue syndrome. They can include physical, psychological, and behavioral complications, including: Persistent Tired and Sleepy Feeling. Mild to Severe Headaches.

Does back pain from COVID go away? ›

Body aches and pains are common symptoms of COVID-19 and can persist long after other symptoms subside.

How do I get rid of COVID dizziness? ›

Find ways to reduce stress – stress can make the symptoms of lightheadedness worse. Eat and drink regularly – symptoms of lightheadedness can be made worse when eating and drinking patterns change so try and stick to a routine and avoid long periods without eating or drinking.

What foods are good for fighting Covid? ›

Use foods from animal sources (e.g. fish, fish, eggs, and milk) and 160 g of meat and beans. For snacks, choose fresh fruits and raw vegetables rather than foods that are high in sugar, salt or fat. Avoid irregular snacking.

Is vitamin D an anti inflammatory? ›

Vitamin D helps to speed up this transition from pro-inflammatory to the anti-inflammatory phase of the T cells. We don't know definitively, but theorize the vitamin could potentially help patients with severe inflammation caused by Th1 cells.”

What food is good for Covid? ›

Kiwis, berries, oranges, sweet potatoes, peppers—these all have lots of vitamin C, which support immune health. Put them in a salad or smoothie. If you feel well enough, eat protein. Protein improves healing capacity—after all, it is the building block of all cells, including immune cells.

Does exercise help COVID recovery? ›

Being active and avoiding long periods of bed-rest is important. It can help you to recover more quickly - both physically and mentally.

Does COVID make you sleep all day? ›

Extreme tiredness (fatigue) is common when you recover from coronavirus (COVID-19). Living with this symptom is difficult. It affects things that you would like to do, which can be frustrating. It takes time to build up your strength and energy levels again.

Is exercise good for COVID? ›

Short bursts of exercise aren't likely to resolve your long COVID symptoms and may even make things worse. "I would suggest consistently tolerable exercise that does not make symptoms worse, rather than short bursts," says Woslager.

What is worse Omicron or Delta? ›

The original strain of Omicron was more transmissible than Delta was. One explanation was that more than 30 of Omicron's mutations are on the virus's spike protein, the part that attaches to human cells, and several of those are believed to increase the probability of infection.

Who is at risk of long COVID? ›

Long COVID is defined by the World Health Organisation as: An illness that occurs in people who have a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) infection; usually within 3 months from the onset of COVID-19, with symptoms and effects that last for at least 2 months. There is no test for long COVID.

How do you know if you have Omicron or Delta? ›

Of the more-frequent symptoms, loss or altered sense of smell, sneezing, runny nose, brain fog, eye soreness, headache, fever, and dizziness were reported significantly more often during Delta prevalence, while sore throat and hoarse voice were significantly more often reported during Omicron.

Does long COVID brain fog go away? ›

Risk of 'brain fog' and other conditions persists up to two years after Covid infection.

Can long COVID cause joint pain? ›

According to the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention), myalgia is amongst the common lasting symptoms after having COVID. Sometimes your joints and muscles might: Ache. Feel painful.

Is cough a symptom of long COVID? ›

In the case of COVID-19, this cough could last for as long as six months after the viral infection, especially if the patient contracted Omicron because it is more airway dependent than the original strain.

What are some of the symptoms of the Omicron sub variant Ba 5? ›

All of the variants, including omicron BA.5, cause similar COVID-19 symptoms:
  • runny nose.
  • cough.
  • sore throat.
  • fever.
  • headaches.
  • muscle pain.
  • fatigue.

What is long COVID brain fog? ›

Talya Fleming, M.D. One of the most common complaints from those who have had COVID-19 is a loss of cognitive function, so-called “brain fog.” This term is used to describe a range of symptoms that may produce difficulty thinking, feeling slow, confusion or forgetfulness.

Can you get COVID twice? ›

Reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 means a person was infected, recovered, and then later became infected again. After recovering from COVID-19, most individuals will have some protection from repeat infections. However, reinfections do occur after COVID-19.

What organs are affected by Covid? ›

Organ damage could play a role. People who had severe illness with COVID-19 might experience organ damage affecting the heart, kidneys, skin and brain. Inflammation and problems with the immune system can also happen.

What helps a Covid cough? ›

Use a hot shower, humidifier, vaporizer or other means of making steam. It will soothe a sore throat and open your airways, making it easier to breathe. Eat a frozen treat. The coldness may help numb the pain and soothe your throat if it is sore from coughing.

What does Covid headache feel like? ›

Researchers have discovered that some of the prominent features of a COVID-19 headache include: Having a pulsing, pressing, or stabbing sensation. Occurring bilaterally (across the whole head) Presenting with severe pressure that won't respond to typical pain relievers, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

What is Covid tongue? ›

4 A July 2020 study published in Integrative Medicine Research found that people with COVID-19 had greasier and more tender tongues. 5 Tongue discoloration was also observed in patients with mild to moderate infections, who had a light red tongue with a white coating.

How long is Omicron contagious for? ›

We know that people tend to be most infectious early in the course of their infection. With Omicron, most transmission occurs during the one to two days before onset of symptoms, and in the two to three days afterwards.

What does a Covid cough feel like? ›

A common symptom of COVID-19 is a dry cough, which is also known as an unproductive cough (a cough that doesn't produce any phlegm or mucus). Most people with dry cough experience it as a tickle in their throat or as irritation in their lungs.

Do you get any immunity after Omicron? ›

Prior infection with Omicron granted stronger protection: it was 79.7% effective at preventing BA. 4 and BA. 5 reinfection and 76.1% effective at preventing symptomatic reinfection.

Is Covid reinfection worse? ›

Symptoms during reinfection are likely to be less severe than during the initial infection, but some people can experience more severe COVID-19 during reinfection.

Can a person be immune to Covid? ›

Getting COVID-19 offers some natural protection or immunity from reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 . It's estimated that getting COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccination both result in a low risk of another infection with a similar variant for at least six months.

› news › health-54296223 ›

For most people, Covid-19 is a brief and mild disease but some are left struggling with symptoms including lasting fatigue, persistent pain and breathlessness f...
joint pain; depression and anxiety; tinnitus, earaches; feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite; a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore thr...
Months after infection with SARS-CoV-2, some people are still battling crushing fatigue, lung damage and other symptoms of 'long COVID'.

How long does Covid fatigue last after? ›

How long does fatigue last after COVID-19? Your recovery from COVID-related fatigue will likely depend on how severe your illness was. After a mild case of COVID-19 your fatigue may clear up after about 2-3 weeks. But if you had a severe case, it's possible to feel sluggish and tired for months.

Who is likely to long Covid? ›

People who have had more severe COVID-19 illness, especially those who were hospitalized or needed intensive care. People who had underlying health conditions prior to COVID-19. People who did not get a COVID-19 vaccine, or who got infected before they were vaccinated.

How do I get my energy back from COVID? ›

Your recovery may take time. Symptoms of fatigue can come and go as you recover. There are things you can do to help: conserve your energy as you recover.
...
Managing fatigue at the start of your recovery
  1. eat well.
  2. have a healthy sleep routine.
  3. drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.

Can you get COVID twice? ›

Reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 means a person was infected, recovered, and then later became infected again. After recovering from COVID-19, most individuals will have some protection from repeat infections. However, reinfections do occur after COVID-19.

Is exercise good for COVID? ›

Short bursts of exercise aren't likely to resolve your long COVID symptoms and may even make things worse. "I would suggest consistently tolerable exercise that does not make symptoms worse, rather than short bursts," says Woslager.

Does long COVID brain fog go away? ›

Risk of 'brain fog' and other conditions persists up to two years after Covid infection.

What percentage of people get long haul COVID? ›

That 20% figure, from a recent CDC analysis of millions of health records, implies that tens of millions of Americans — a fifth of people infected with Covid — have at least one lingering post-infection symptom that is seriously affecting their daily life.

Is cough a symptom of long COVID? ›

In the case of COVID-19, this cough could last for as long as six months after the viral infection, especially if the patient contracted Omicron because it is more airway dependent than the original strain.

Videos

1. What We Know About Long COVID
(Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)
2. Long COVID - Leading cardiologists discuss what we know so far
(Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute)
3. What we know about long Covid so far: an overview
(Medicine By Dr Zhang)
4. What Do We Know about Long COVID?
(University of California Television (UCTV))
5. What we know about long COVID-19 and new COVID discoveries | The Virus | ABC News
(ABC News In-depth)
6. Long COVID - What Have We Learned So Far? | Carlos del Rio, MD
(Academic Medical Education)

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Otha Schamberger

Last Updated: 07/26/2022

Views: 6250

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Otha Schamberger

Birthday: 1999-08-15

Address: Suite 490 606 Hammes Ferry, Carterhaven, IL 62290

Phone: +8557035444877

Job: Forward IT Agent

Hobby: Fishing, Flying, Jewelry making, Digital arts, Sand art, Parkour, tabletop games

Introduction: My name is Otha Schamberger, I am a vast, good, healthy, cheerful, energetic, gorgeous, magnificent person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.