To date, approximately 30 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, and as many as one-third of them are still feeling the lingering effects of the infection. Although much remains to be learned about “long COVID-19”, there are common findings all patients should be aware of now. Dr. Sandra Kesh, Deputy Medical Director and Infectious Disease Specialist answers some common questions about “long COVID-19.”
What are some of the symptoms shared by COVID-19 long haulers?
The more commonly reported symptoms include fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain and joint pain, but other symptoms we’ve seen include “brain fog” (difficulty concentrating), depression, muscle pain, headache, fever, and palpitations. Many patients with long COVID-19 were previously completely healthy, and a good number had mild COVID-19 infection. It remains unclear what puts some people at risk for developing long COVID-19, but clearly the condition is not isolated to those with severe infection.
Do these symptoms eventually go away?
Because COVID-19 is still a fairly new infection, we don’t know how long these symptoms will last for most patients. That’s obviously not news anyone wants to hear, but that’s also why preventing infection (with vaccination) and protecting yourself from exposure (with masks and social distancing) remain critical steps.
What should you do if you suspect you may have these symptoms?
First, contact your primary care provider, since some of these symptoms may also be caused by other medical conditions. If you were not diagnosed with COVID-19 infection in the past, an antibody test may sometimes help determine if you had an asymptomatic infection. None of the tests are 100% accurate, however, and sometimes a definitive diagnosis cannot be made. We simply don’t know enough about this disease yet to have all the answers.
How do you treat this condition?
That’s a vital question, and an area of active research. At this time, most of the care is “supportive”, meaning you can take fever-reducing medications for fever, anti-inflammatories for muscle and joint pain, and so forth. You should of course do all of this under the guidance of your health care provider. As we learn more about this syndrome, we hope more targeted therapy will become available in the future.
Should you get the vaccine if you are a “long hauler”?
Yes, you should. First, we believe the immune response to the vaccine may be stronger and more durable than the immunity triggered by the actual infection. Also, early studies suggest that some patients with long COVID-19 have improvement in their symptoms following vaccination. More research remains to be done to confirm these findings, but this much is clear: vaccination remains a critical step in protecting against infection.