Some scientists worry that long COVID will become long-lasting condition

2022-01-31 22:28:43
Some scientists worry that long COVID will become long-lasting condition

More than a third of COVID-19 survivors by some estimates will develop lingering symptoms known as long COVID, The Associated Press said in a report.

Now, with omicron sweeping across the globe, scientists are racing to pinpoint the cause of the bedeviling condition and find treatments before a potential explosion in long COVID cases.

More than a year after a bout with COVID-19, Rebekah Hogan told the AP still suffers from severe brain fog, pain and fatigue that leave her unable to do her nursing job or handle household activities.

Long COVID has her questioning her worth as a wife and mother.

“Is this permanent? Is this the new norm?’’ said the 41-year-old Latham, New York, woman, whose three children and husband also have signs of the condition. “I want my life back.’’

Could it be an autoimmune disorder? That could help explain why long COVID-19 disproportionately affects women, who are more likely than men to develop autoimmune diseases. Could microclots be the cause of symptoms ranging from memory lapses to discolored toes? That could make sense, since abnormal blood clotting can occur in COVID-19.

As these theories and others are tested, there is fresh evidence that vaccination may reduce the chances of developing long COVID.

It’s too soon to know whether people infected with the highly contagious omicron variant will develop the mysterious constellation of symptoms, usually diagnosed many weeks after the initial illness. But some experts think a wave of long COVID is likely and say doctors need to be prepared for it.

One is that the infection or remnants of the virus persist past the initial illness, triggering inflammation that leads to long COVID.

Another possibility is that tiny clots play a role in long COVID. Many COVID-19 patients develop elevated levels of inflammatory molecules that promote abnormal clotting. That can lead to blood clots throughout the body that can cause strokes, heart attacks and dangerous blockages in the legs and arms.

In her lab at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, scientist Resia Pretorius has found microclots in blood samples from patients with COVID-19 and in those who later developed long COVID. She also found elevated levels of proteins in blood plasma that prevented the normal breakdown of these clots.

She believes that these clotting abnormalities persist in many patients after an initial coronavirus infection and that they reduce oxygen distribution to cells and tissue throughout the body, leading to most if not all symptoms that have been linked to long COVID.

She said there is real worry things could get worse. “So many people are losing their livelihoods, their homes. They can’t work anymore,” she said. “Long COVID will probably have a more severe impact on our economy than acute COVID.”

While there’s no firm list of symptoms that define the condition, the most common include fatigue, problems with memory and thinking, loss of taste and smell, shortness of breath, insomnia, anxiety and depression.

Some of these symptoms may first appear during an initial infection but linger or recur a month or more later. Or new ones may develop, lasting for weeks, months or over a year.

Because so many of the symptoms occur with other illnesses, some scientists question whether the coronavirus is always the trigger. Researchers hope their work will provide definitive answers.

Long COVID affects adults of all ages as well as children. Research shows it is more prevalent among those who were hospitalized, but also strikes a significant portion who weren’t.

There are no treatments specifically approved for long COVID, though some patients get relief from painkillers, drugs used for other conditions, and physical therapy. But more help may be on the horizon.

Some scientists worry that long COVID in certain patients might become a form of chronic fatigue syndrome, a poorly understood, long-lasting condition that has no cure or approved treatment.

One thing’s for sure, some experts say: Long COVID will have a huge effect on individuals, health care systems and economies around the world, costing many billions of dollars.

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