Last week, the National Institutes of Health launched a new initiative to study what’s called “Long COVID.” Long COVID refers to patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, but don’t fully recover or still experience symptoms for weeks or months – well past the average length of an infection.
“People talk a lot about the deaths from COVID and we certainly have seen that for the most severe cases, there is a high mortality rate,” said Edward Hospital’s Medical Director of Infection Control and Prevention Dr. Jonathan Pinsky. “But there are a lot of patients who have severe cases and survive, and have a very rough time and a long recovery.”
What Symptoms to Expect for “Long COVID”
The symptoms most commonly associated with “Long COVID” are respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath or a lingering cough. They may also include sleep disorders or “brain fog.” Pinsky said Edward Hospital has seen patients that need supplemental oxygen well after being discharged from the hospital.
Pinsky referred to these patients as “long haulers.”“These are people that have a recovery, but just don’t seem to bounce back,” he said. “They may need other treatments besides antibiotics and other types of therapies. That area is less well-understood.”
Difficult to Track
Edward Hospital mostly treats COVID-positive patients during the most severe days of their illness and then discharges them to the patients’ primary care physicians. That makes tracking “Long COVID” difficult.
That’s where NIH comes in. Congress approved $1.15 billion in funding over the next four years to study the long-term effects of COVID-19 infection. In an open letter from NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, he outlined some of the questions the institutes hope to answer, such as:
- How many people continue to have symptoms of COVID-19, or even develop new symptoms after acute infection?
- What is the underlying biological cause of these prolonged symptoms?
- What makes some people vulnerable to this but not others?
Understanding the Virus
The risk of another surge in COVID-19 cases drops with every person who gets vaccinated against the virus. But the more doctors understand about the virus and how it works, the more they can prevent future outbreaks.
Naperville News 17’s Casey Krajewski reports.
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