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The Reality of Long COVID

All who have experienced a SARS-CoV-2 infection know its distinct symptoms and effects. Vaccinated or not, anyone can contract COVID-19, and this latest strain (known as the Omicron BA.5 variant) has shown that while it may not be as deadly as earlier iterations, it is particularly transmissible. According to data as of July 2, 2022, from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Omicron BA.5 variant accounts for nearly 54% of total COVID-19 cases in the US.1 Omicron BA.5 doesn’t seem to care much if you’ve had Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or any other variant, it’s highly infectious. Furthermore, as new variants emerge, reinfection with those strains is possible. All of this makes us wonder: if our new reality is reinfection with the novel coronavirus, what long-term negative health effects are possible? Is there such a thing as long-term COVID?

This important question is just now being answered. As more data emerge, is it clear long COVID exists. The World Health Organization has developed a definition for long COVID:

“Post COVID-19 condition 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 and that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis. Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction but also others and generally have an impact on everyday functioning. Symptoms may be new onset following initial recovery from an acute COVID-19 episode or persist from the initial illness. Symptoms may also fluctuate or relapse over time.”2

IF OUR NEW REALITY IS REINFECTION WITH THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS, WHAT LONG-TERM NEGATIVE HEALTH EFFECTS ARE POSSIBLE?

Long COVID is also known as COVID-19 syndrome as well as post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection. Those affected by long COVID are often termed “COVID long haulers” and the most common persistent symptoms include brain fog, fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath.3 However, numerous other side-effects are possible.

A recent systematic review described more than 50 long-term effects of COVID-19, ranging from fatigue to paranoia. The review noted that an estimated 80% of those infected with SARS-CoV-2 developed long-term symptoms, and these began from 14 days to 110 days post-viral infection.4 For a graphic figure illustrating the various symptoms, visit: nature.com/articles/s41598-021-95565-8/figures/2.          

Also significant is the potential connection between COVID-19 and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). As Kissell and Messina wrote in their article on the topic published in July’s edition of Dimensions of Dental Hygiene: “Ongoing studies seek to determine if COVID-19 is a conclusive causative factor, if long-COVID and ME/CFS symptoms simply overlap, or whether they are the same illness.”5

I am currently recovering from a SARS-CoV-2 infection. I have never felt such severe fatigue but am getting better each day. Will I end up being a long hauler? Time will tell. But those who are suffering lasting effects from COVID-19 have my empathy and support.

Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief
[email protected]

References

  1. United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker.  Available at: covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#variant-proportions. Accessed July 25, 2022.
  2. World Health Organization. A Clinical Case Definition of Post-COVID-19 Condition by a Delphi Consensus. Availabe at:who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-2019-nCoV-Post_COVID-19_condition-Clinical_case_definition-2021.1  Accessed July 25, 2022. 
  3. Berg  S. COVID long haulers: questions patients have about symptoms. Available at:ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/covid-long-haulers-questions-patients-have-about-symptoms#:~:text=Those%20individuals%20are%20often%20referred,breath%2C%20among%20others. Accessed July 25, 2022.      
  4. Lopez-Leon S, Wegman-Ostrosky T, Perelman C, et al.  More than 50 long-term effects of COVID-19:  a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sci Rep. 2021;11:16144.
  5. Kissell D, Messina D. Caring for patients with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. 2022;20(7):26–31.

From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. August 2022; 20(8)7.

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