The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the end of the global health emergency on the COVID-19 pandemic on May 3, 2023 but the long term health impact from COVID-19 (Long COVID) is lingering on for many people. The risk of developing Long COVID increases as people get infected with COVID-19 multiple times. CDC and various health organizations are striving to determine the patient profile of Long COVID and the long term health implication of COVID-19 on population.
Long COVID is defined as persistent “signs, symptoms, and conditions that continue or develop after initial COVID-19 infection” by the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC. The range of health conditions are diverse, and can last weeks, months, or years after contracting COVID-19. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 11% of the US adult population currently have Long COVID symptoms, with CDC data showing a greater prevalence in women than men.
The COVID-19 virus is spread through droplets/aerosols which can enter through the eyes, nose, or mouth, and move to the lungs and respiratory system, resulting in symptoms similar to colds or flus when an immune response is elicited in the human body including the following:
There is currently no single test to determine if a health concern is the direct result of Long COVID. The CDC recommends considering a Long COVID diagnosis for patients depending on their health history, and with a prior diagnosis of, or symptoms or exposure to COVID-19.
Some reported symptoms of Long COVID target specific systems such as:
Acute COVID-19 tests blood or swab sampling to identify the presence of the specific virus SARS-CoV-2, or antigens or antibodies specific to it. A variety of testing panels are available through Rupa Health, and include additional assessments for factors that may reveal potential for severity of illness, and patient response to the vaccine.
Some examples from this focus include:
A physical examination, health history, symptom list, and contact list, with COVID-19 testing can help with diagnosis. As the status of the gut microbiome has been implicated in COVID-19, an assessment of gut health and function can also facilitate diagnosis and treatment. Depending on severity of illness, imaging, blood tests and hospitalization may be necessary.
Although there is no single test to identify Long COVID as the direct cause of the health issues, there are tests that can be helpful to triangulate the sources of the symptoms.
As COVID-19 can be spread to other people, depending on test results, physical assessment, and symptoms, it may be best to stay home and limit contact with others, if the case is mild enough to not require hospitalization. Establishing a healthy lifestyle and nutrition regime can be helpful in preventing contraction of COVID-19 and in facilitating recovery.
Long COVID can be challenging to treat being a new health condition with multiple presentations, depending on the body systems impacted and the patient’s health history and comorbidities. Treatment plans need to be individualized to the specific patient and can include symptom-specific care, and providing support and rehabilitation as needed as well as improving nutrition, lifestyle, and gut health.
Some treatment plans can include: