Yup, COVID cases surged again this year — thank you Omicron variant. Worse yet, the Omicron variants are causing increasing numbers of Long COVID cases, with the new BF7 variant and a lesser-known XBB expected to hit hard this fall. Sadly, as good as the vaccines are at reducing hospitalization, they provide scant protection against Long COVID. Experts expect that with each passing day, the number of Long COVID sufferers will increase, despite a reduced number of infections or hospitalizations. Many in the public health arena believe that Long COVID is the next big health crisis.
Editor’s note: for any reader who is looking for facts to support not getting a COVID vaccine, you need not read any further. This article explains why getting vaccinated is absolutely essential. Literally, it is a no-brainer decision, because the SARS-cov-2 Omicron variant virus that is currently sweeping the country is far more contagious than any variant we’ve seen since we were first invaded by this particular deadly coronavirus. The key take-away point is that even if you get vaccinated, you may end up getting COVID and inadvertently transmitting the SARS-cov-2 virus to others. But you definitely need to get vaccinated now, more than ever.
What Exactly Is Long COVID?
As described in the October 13, 2021 study, COVID-19 syndrome or “long COVID is the term used to describe a myriad of diverse symptoms. Among the most common are insomnia, brain fog, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, tinnitus and shortness of breath and a multitude of other illnesses. Primarily, scientists are finding that COVID affects a multitude of organ systems. So COVID survivors are now displaying brain, heart, liver, kidney, lung and vascular ailments, long past their recovery from COVID itself. As noted in a Harvard Medical School blog post, some people who recover from COVID-19 are left with clear damage to their lungs, heart, kidney, or brain that may never be reversed. Two studies released in July indicate that large numbers of COVID patients suffer severe and possibly irreversible brain damage that is comparable to Alzheimers.
Studies that monitored COVID-19 patients 21 days after their diagnosis and 60 days after discharge showed that some 50% to 80% of patients continued to not feel well up to three months after they first were diagnosed, months after tests no longer detect a live virus in their bodies. A recent Swiss study suggests about after six to eight months, 26% of COVID patients reported not having fully recovered. An October 2022 story, in the NY Times cites a recent Scottish study that found that 40% of COVID suffers reported on-going symptoms many months after no longer testing positive. Because this study had a control group, it offers some valuable scientific insights into the challenges of finding treatments, let alone cures, to Long COVID.
This syndrome can be intensely painful and hard to diagnose. One of the most common mental health effects and challenges has been chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety, making it literally impossible for people to work, or even function. Many Long-COVID suffers have turned to suicide, as the only relief from this unrelenting syndrome.
Most importantly, this syndrome is not limited to the unvaccinated. There’s very little vetted evidence that suggests that vaccinated COVID cases — even ones who have no symptoms at all — are immune from Long COVID’s ravages. Scientists are learning more each day about this condition and none of the news is good.
Are Long COVID Cases Really All That Rare?
Sadly, no. Current estimates are that an estimated 25% of people who are infected with COVID will likely experience long-haul COVID symptoms. The World Health Organization reported this month that there are likely 17 million Long-COVID cases in Europe, alone. The most recent estimates of Long COVID cases in the U.S. range between 15-25% of all COVID patients. A recent Brookings Institute study finds that at least 4 million full-time employees have been unable to work because of Long COVID — or about 2.5% of the entire U.S. working population. Importantly, this estimate doesn’t include workers who have temporarily left the job market because of the fear of getting COVID.
Global estimates for Long COVID cases exceeds 560 million — yes, that million. And now, because of home testing, public health officials can only guess as to how many COVID cases have occurred, let alone how many of these people will get Long COVID. The reason why this data lapse is so important is that scientists are finding out the prevalence of Long COVID among even asymptomatic COVID patients. And the news is not good. A recent study by Washington University suggests that your likelihood of having Long COVID are reduced by only 15% if you’ve been vaccinated. Yes, it will substantially reduce your dying from COVID, but it provides scant protection against long-term (and possibly permanent) organ damage.
And here’s what might be the most disturbing part of Long COVID: the breadth of damage it does to the human body. So far, doctors have documented over 200 different symptoms of Long COVID affecting over 40 organs in the body. Because it is a vascular disease, it impacts any part of the body that is linked to your circulatory system — meaning just about every part of your body.
More is Being Discovered About Long-COVID Syndrome…..and it’s Not Good
Compounding the problem caused by breakthrough cases is that ….and there’s no compelling evidence that people who have been vaccinated are somehow protected against Long COVID. That’s right — if you are vaccinated and you get a mild case or even have no symptoms at all, you can still fall victim to what is being called Long COVID.
The most recent studies suggest that if you are over 65, there’s a 1 in 4 likelihood that you’ll experience Long COVID. But these numbers might be optimistic. A October 13, 2021 peer-reviewed study found that over 50% of COVID patients suffered long haul symptoms for over 6 months. And the symptoms are nasty:
- More than half of all patients reported weight loss, fatigue, fever or pain.
- 30% of those who suffered from COVID-19 are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, sleep disorders or anxiety disorders
- Roughly 20% experienced a decrease in mobility.
- Nearly 25% experienced difficulty concentrating.
- 60% had chest imaging abnormality and more than a quarter of patients had difficulty breathing.
- Chest pain and palpitations were among the commonly reported conditions.
- Nearly 20% of patients experienced hair loss or rashes.
- Stomach pain, lack of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting were among the commonly reported conditions.
And while the definition of long-haul that the researchers used was no less than 6 months of symptoms, a large number of these symptoms lasted more than 6 months or are still on-going. That number could be as high as 75%. In a recent Lancet article, researchers as many as three-quarters of Chinese COVID patients who recovered from COVID-19 reported experiencing at least one lingering symptom 6 months later.
Another study found that nearly a quarter of COVID-19 patients in a Mount Sinai Health System registry experienced some issues with their memory. Hospitalized patients did fare more poorly than unhospitalized ones: the researchers found 39% of hospitalized patients had impairment in that area compared with 12% of outpatients. Similar findings (about 30%) were verified by a U.S. study released in April 2022.
More recently, researchers determined that nearly one in three older adults with COVID-19 develops at least a long COVID health condition that needs medical attention in the months after initial infection. In a study published on February 8 in the British Medical Journal, more than 133,000 adults age 65 and older diagnosed with COVID-19 before April 1, 2020 where studied. Almost one-third of them reported additional symptoms that required medical treatment months after recovering from COVID. This 30% number appeared again in another British study of children or adolescents who tested positive for COVID. In that study, researchers found that 35.4% of participants who tested positive reported symptoms exhibited long COVID symptoms months later. The most commonly reported symptoms among those who tested positive were tiredness (39%), headache (23.2%), and shortness of breath (23.4%).
In one of the more worrisome long COVID studies, people who died of severe COVID-19 were found to have brain abnormalities that resemble changes seen in Alzheimer’s disease. Autopsies of these patients showed abnormal amounts of the protein beta-amyloid that accumulates into amyloid plaques.