Long-COVID, for the past 2-3 years has quietly plagued our world; putting scientists and healthcare professionals on edge. There have been many studies on the severity and persistence of these COVID-related conditions. Many of these studies predict that long-COVID is, in many ways, overlooked and under-rated even though a WHO study suggests that about 10%-20% of COVID-19 recoverees have long-COVID. With research focused on different demographics and only covering a limited number of COVID-related conditions, there’s a limit to the efficacy of the studies, making it hard to draw strong conclusions from them. However, if there’s something that all the studies agree on, it's the fact that long-COVID is an under-rated health risk that is bound to cause more harm to its victims than the originating disease. The major factors used to study COVID-related conditions are severity (how serious the condition is), and chronicity (how long the condition or disease lasts in the body).
In this article, we will shed some light on what long-COVID is, possible treatments, and just how long this silent plague really lasts.
What Exactly Is Long-COVID?
The general public is, in some ways, largely uneducated or under-educated on long-COVID. There are many speculations and unfounded information on what exactly long-COVID is. Let’s get things straight and debunk some of those myths. First off, let's start with a proper definition. Long-COVID is a collective term used to define the diseases or conditions that people who have recently recovered from COVID develop. Although these conditions don’t exactly seem to be related to a COVID infection, studies show that they are.
For instance, a study reported that a whopping 45% of COVID-19 survivors ended up experiencing unresolved issues after about 4 months. A small disparity in this definition is usually in time range—that is, at what point should we start considering a condition as an after-effect of COVID-19? The CDC defines long-COVID as any symptom that continues four weeks after the initial infection. On the other hand, the World Health Organization defines long-COVID similarly, but with a three-month interval. Another thing we should make clear is the wide range of terms used to describe long-COVID. Numerous healthcare authorities, professionals, and stakeholders describe long-COVID with other terms. Terms like: post-acute COVID-19, post-acute sequelae of SARS CoV-2 infection (PASC), long-term effects of COVID, long-haul COVID, and chronic COVID all refer to the same condition.
COVID-related conditions are widespread; they include conditions ranging from brain fog and anxiety to psychosis, post-exertional malaise similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and even kidney damage. Long-COVID is also characterized into two major classes—mild cases and severe cases. As their names imply, these are COVID-related conditions that are either mild or have extremely severe consequences. An example of a mild condition is cough, on the other hand, heart inflammation and kidney damage are on the severe end of the COVID-19 spectrum.
Signup for the Free Pulse Newsletter!
Making discovery a part of daily lifeSubscribe
Can You Treat Long-COVID?
Treatment for long-COVID is largely dependent on the symptoms the individual is experiencing. With the wide range of diseases COVID-19 initiates, there’s no exact treatment for long-COVID. The best bet is to discover the related condition early and start treatment immediately. In case you're wondering if the COVID-19 vaccine helps prevent long-COVID, the answer is yes! According to 2 independent studies by the NHIS and The Lancelet, there is evidence that a COVID-19 vaccine provides an appreciable level of cover against long-COVID. There are even speculations that a vaccine might alleviate some mild symptoms even when administered after the onset of long-COVID. In the treatment of any disease or condition, one of the most important factors is early diagnosis. For patients who have any symptoms of long-COVID, the most promising route to getting better is finding out fast enough to start treatment as soon as possible. The good news is that many healthcare providers have special programs that try to cover all the possible conditions related to long-COVID.
How Long Does Long-COVID Really Last?
A recent study by an Israeli-based research organization—KI Institute, has shown some promise with its much wider demographic and a longer time frame to collate data. Their findings are fully documented in a research paper published on the BMJ (British Medical Journal) website earlier this month. The research team led by Barak Mizrahi MSc collated the data of nearly 2 million Israeli patients sourced from Maccabi Healthcare, a leading health maintenance organization in Israel. The data was used to compare the approximately 300,000 COVID-positive people with those whose tests came out negative. The comparison was baselined by the identifying of about 70 long-COVID symptoms and further divided to specify among men, women, and children. The researchers found that various types of health issues after a mild case of COVID lingered for several months, but cleared up within the first year after infection. Certain symptoms, including weakness and difficulty breathing, were more likely to persist.
Further findings from the study reveal a few major insights, which include:
- First off, vaccinated people were less likely to have any respiratory-related symptoms when they got infected. However, other symptoms didn't show a preference for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
- Early in the year, there was an increased risk of COVID-related problems such as cough, loss of smell and taste, dizziness, shortness of breath, and strep throat. Later on, symptoms like chest pain, hair loss, and some respiratory disorders became prevalent but ended up disappearing before the end of the year.
- Children had a lot fewer health problems after getting infected than adults. The disparities in symptoms were however not so different in adults as men and women showed almost the same statistics.
- Lastly, 41-60 is the age range that saw patients with the most symptoms. Shortness of breath also continued being a major player above the 60-year mark.
Pros and Cons of The New Study
The good news is that the study has revealed that most of the COVID-related symptoms experienced by infected patients tend to disappear after a year. Their wide range of data collated from 2 million tested people also gives some veracity to their claims. Additionally, the tests that were carried out under the Maccabi Healthcare system were free making them as random as possible. This eliminates any arguments that may arise concerning a referral-based testing system used in some countries. In the referral-based system, only people suspected to have the virus were advanced to take the test. With the Maccabi system, this is not the case.
However, their study is based on data from just one country, and this might be detrimental to the efficacy of the study. Genetic and regional-based data will tend to give similar results. If the data is, however, compared with people in other regions or of a wider genetic range, the study’s veracity may be proven. Furthermore, some scientists don’t believe the study design is as good as it should be, which might have resulted in an optimistic result.
At the end of the day, KI’s new study is the widest study we’ve had to prove how widespread long-COVID symptoms are. Even though it’s not perfect, it is an important contribution to the cause against this silent plague. It is bound to help us understand long-COVID and ultimately checkmate its effects in our society.
Stay up to date with the latest health news and research, Sign Up for our Free Pulse Newsletter today!