In the beginning, on February 10, 2020 to be exact, then President Donald Trump boldly predicted that COVID-19 would be “miraculously gone by April.”
Alas, miracles are hard to come by and three years later COVID is still with us, less frequently to be sure, but for a minority of Americans, seemingly forever. The first known US death was on Feb. 6, 2020. And on Dec. 14, 2020 a nurse at Northwell Heath/Queens named Sandra Lindsay got the first jab, a Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.
While the worst ravages have been curbed in the ensuing two plus years, it has not been eradicated and many are wrestling with the after effects months after a COVID-19 virus has passed. Or has it?
Doctors called it “Long COVID,” a clutch of symptoms that may include up to 200 specific symptoms such as the long-term fatigue and brain fog that often linger after a viral infection, as well as tiny blood clots that may predict a permanently increased risk of long-term health problems such as strokes and heart attacks.
The questions are why? How? And to whom?
Fact #1: Everybody’s body is unique. For example, people who start with underlying conditions such as diabetes are likely to end with more severe COVID.
Fact #2: Other links are not so obvious. For example, no one yet knows why symptoms are likely to linger longer in the female as opposed to the male body.
The first path to an answer is an accurate count, which, given the multiplicity of variations, isn’t easy to pin down. Last year, when British researchers published a meta-analysis of COVID studies they found up to 17 percent of patients reporting symptoms three months after the initial bout. Last month, another study suggested a possibility that virologists find intriguing: viral persistence. Translation: the COVID virus, like the virus that triggers shingles late in life or more commonly the herpes virus that causes “cold sores,” may simply hide in the body, sitting there for years waiting to break out and wreak havoc once again.
This theory is bolstered by a February report that people with Long COVID had the coronavirus’s protein in their blood 12 months after their original infection with symptoms likely based on where the virus took up lodging. Brain? Brain fog. Muscles? Fatigue. And so on.
In short, while most people may think of COVID and Long COVID as respiratory diseases, they are actually a whole-body problem, which the medical community is examining piece by speculative piece.
As Andrew B. Wallach, MD, FACP, who is the Clinical Director, Ambulatory Care NYC Health+Hospitals/Bellevue explains, “We are still studying why some people are more likely to develop Long COVID. It appears, though, that individuals who were not previously vaccinated or had a severe case of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization or ICU care are at increased risk. However, even those who had mild cases of COVID-19 can develop Long COVID. The best treatment is prevention: stay up-to-date with vaccinations and wear a well-fitting mask over your nose and mouth during periods of high virus transmission in the community. For those with persistent symptoms, treatment is supportive and addresses the particular symptom.”
Add to that the obvious caveat that presidents should stick to “presidenting,” and leave the med stuff to medicos.