WHO releases first official definition of ‘long covid’
Long COVID has been used to refer to a range of new, returning, or ongoing symptoms after initial COVID-19 infection.
This month, the WHO has published an official definition of post-COVID-19 to advance research and help diagnose individuals. The definition can change and be refined further as new evidence emerges regarding the condition.
Although most COVID-19 patients recover after their initial infection, about 10% to 20% experience new, returning, or lingering symptoms for weeks or months.
Over the past year this condition has been called many names, including “long COVID” and “chronic COVID-19 syndrome.”
But until now, there was a lack of an official clinical definition that detailed the time of onset, duration, and types of symptoms.
For over a year, medical professionals and researchers have struggled to diagnose patients and provide them with the right care.
To address the challenges brought by the absence of globally standardized terminology for the long-term effects of the condition, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently published an official definition.
They hope that defining post-COVID-19 will advance both the advocacy and research of the condition, as well as help improve the recognition and care of patients experiencing it.
The WHO surveyed a panel consisting of patients, patient-researchers, medical experts, and WHO staff to arrive at a clinical case definition for post-COVID-19.
They define it as, a condition that “occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, usually 3 months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.”
The definition states that common symptoms include:
Shortness of breath
Others which generally have an impact on everyday functioning
These symptoms may be new “following initial recovery from an acute COVID-19 episode, or persist from the initial illness. Symptoms may also fluctuate or relapse over time.”1
The definition highlights that post-COVID-19 may have an impact on everyday functioning, which health providers have observed when patients explain that they do not feel like their “normal selves,” Carl Lambert Jr., MD, family physician and assistant professor of family medicine at the Rush University Medical Center, tells Verywell.
There is no minimum number of symptoms required for the diagnosis, and the WHO noted that a separate definition may be applicable for children.