For many people, contracting COVID-19 is the gift that keeps on giving, with symptoms persisting potentially for months after the initial illness. People with “long COVID” complain about some combination of fatigue, body pain, and ongoing respiratory and cognitive problems. However, the exact symptoms vary from person to person, as does the length of time they persist. That’s made long COVID a huge challenge for the medical community to understand, diagnose, and treat. But as time has passed, more long COVID cases have been documented, and more studies have been completed, we’re starting to get a better understanding of its parameters.
This weekend’s read is a fascinating research paper from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), our hometown heroes based at the University of Washington who have cranked out some of the most important analysis on the spread of COVID-19 since the earliest days of the pandemic.
While we have learned much over the past two years about how COVID-19 is transmitted — and how to block it or at least slow it down — there are many mysteries regarding the virus that have yet to be unraveled. One of those mysteries is why both infection and fatality rates vary so much from country to country, defying geography, wealth, and other simple explanations. The IHME took on this question, attempting to discover what factors have correlated with infections and fatalities.
This weekend’s reads are two scientific research papers, both relatively short.
The first is the latest twist on dogs’ well-documented ability to diagnose certain diseases by detecting unique scents emanating from those afflicted with them — scents that are not detectable by humans. In the past, dogs have been trained to detect chronic conditions such as diabetes or Parkinson’s disease and potentially to predict an impending acute medical event such as a stroke, a heart attack, or an epileptic seizure. Recently, researchers have had some success in training dogs to detect people infected with COVID — a very different kind of “rapid test” that one could imagine would be very handy in airports and other places where people gather.
This weekend’s main “long read” deals with a scary topic: “long COVID.” This is how the medical community has come to refer to incidents where a patient diagnosed with COVID-19 initially seems to recover but continues to suffer ongoing symptoms for weeks or even months. Doctors have established two categories of long COVID: “ongoing symptomatic COVID” (OSC), in which symptoms continue on for four to 12 weeks after the initial illness; and “post-COVID syndrome” for symptoms that persist after 12 weeks.
Long COVID is still an emerging phenomenon since COVID-19 has barely been around long enough to start to complete longitudinal studies, but by existing estimates, 10% or more of the general population who contract COVID-19 will have some form of long COVID to follow, and the percentage is much higher in some high-risk populations (including those hospitalized with COVID-19). But little is still known about exactly what the risk factors are for long COVID, and how they compare to COVID-19 itself.