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Long-Term COVID: The Next Pandemic?

Long-Term COVID: The Next Pandemic?

Magazine, Living Well

Long COVID has potentially affected up to 23 million Americans, and left 1 million people permanently unable to work, according to a recent report from the US Government Accountability Office. A study released earlier this month in the scientific journal Nature concludes that nearly half of patients who suffered from symptomatic Covid have not recovered several months later.

A briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services(EMS), addressed:

  • The role of vaccines in mitigating long COVID•Symptoms of long COVID
  • Symptoms of long COVID
  • Managing long COVID symptoms
  • Disparities in the delivery of care to vulnerable populations. Could proper treatment in the first stages of infection possibly prevent long COVID? Is lack of access to antiviral medications contributing to the high number of lower-income people suffering from long COVID?
  • Are certain communities more vulnerable? Are genetics and underlying conditions involved?

Dr. Jose Luis Perez, Chief Medical Officer, South Central Family Health Center, says it has many names that refer to the same thing, symptoms that last for weeks or months, tiredness or fatigue, post external malaise, feeling sick after physical or mental effort, fever, respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms such as shortness of breath, neurological symptoms like a foggy brain, headaches, sleep disturbances, dizziness, change in smell or taste, depression, and anxiety, etc. digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, others such as joint or muscle pain, a rash, and for women, changes in the menstrual cycle.

Discussing who is likely to get long-term covid, a recent study by  Brooking Institute study shows that possibly 16 million Americans suffer from it and over 14 million are out of work or have been out of work as a result. There is still so much more to learn and typically patients with diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and even obesity are at risk. People who have been very sick and in some cases needed to be in the ICU are more predisposed, as well as unvaccinated people who caught covid when unfortunately there were no vaccines at the time. All the cases include a multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) during or after covid infection. People who work in crowded places such as a supermarket, restaurants, Construction sites, and hotels have a higher risk of getting the virus.

Meeting these challenges is very difficult because there is no cure at this stage and no one knows exactly what causes this syndrome. However, there are tools to control the symptoms such as physical therapy, and mental health, and specific medication for individual symptoms. There must be transparency and realistic goals. At South Central Family Health Center, care is given to the most vulnerable populations even though thus far there has only been a handful of patients diagnosed. It is important to take a holistic approach and provide continued training to healthcare providers in the identification of long covid. Medical, mental case management, psychiatry, pharmacy, and referral services at South Central are some of the tools used to manage long covid symptoms.

Some important factors to combat this syndrome are:

  • preventing infection in the first place using the three W’s- watch your distance, wear a mask and wash hands.
  • Getting vaccinated will ameliorate the infection.

Dr. Nisha Viswanathan, Director of UCLA’s Long COVID Program a primary care physician, and assistant professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA explained that it is important to find out if this is actually long covid or if there are other conditions or clinical problems prior to having had covid. Primary care doctors do not have the time to sit and talk to patients and so figuring out what is important. She agreed that it is important to take steps not to get covid in the first place so as not to get long covid, making the argument for how critical vaccines are. If vaccinated, it is also important to take the boosters however treating specific symptoms has proven better than using Paxlovid which was recommended before and has been discontinued. All the multidisciplinary strategies have also been good even though it is a new field and there is much learning to do. The anti-inflammatory diet is also great, eating less red meat, eating whole grains, and drinking less alcohol is encouraged.

Michelle Burroughs, MPH, Director of Community Engagement and Outreach for the UC Riverside School of Medicine’s Center for Healthy Communities, shared her experience with the black community in San Bernardino where many are still unvaccinated. Mistrust and fear continue to permeate as a result of a history that shows that black lives aren’t valued. Because they believe that the vaccine is a ploy to annihilate the black population, it is important to have black professionals educate and service such communities. Because of disparities, the impact of long-haul covid could be devastating to the community as black people are not receiving equitable care from providers like their white counterparts. More black people in these communities are likely to die from covid-19 unlike their white counterparts and they fill unheard and unseen when the symptoms are unattended. Health disparities continue to plague the health care of black people who are not receiving proper care for long covid which can cause a ripple effect on their lives and so creating a diverse workforce is imperative

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