“In times of deep darkness, we not only need light — we need to be a light for one another.”

Parker Palmer

While we’ve been staring down the gun barrels of serious illness and death from COVID, plus the stuttering rollout of sufficient vaccines, another pandemic is developing.

I refer it to the so-called “Long COVID” or “Post-COVID” syndrome. In a significant percentage of COVID cases, those who’ve “recovered” from the initial infection continue to be adversely affected with long-term and ongoing health impairments. Dr. Anthony Fauci said this situation will likely impact millions of people.

The phenomenon was recently highlighted in a couple of fascinating, but disturbing, articles from the New York Times magazine: “My ‘Long COVID’ Nightmare: Still Sick After 6 Months” and “What If You Never Get Better From COVID-19?”

We’ve known for a while that some COVID patients have ongoing issues when they’re released from the hospital. What’s coming to light though is that many whose infection wasn’t so serious as to require hospitalization — even younger, healthy, minimally symptomatic patients — may develop persistent health problems.

Most prominent of these are severe fatigue and ongoing pulmonary, cardiac, neurological and gastrointestinal issues. A kind of “brain fog” has been reported, likely because of neuroinflammation, which leaves folks struggling to function at their best level cognitively. How about an enduring loss of the sense of smell, which also can affect appetite, taste and nutrition and even lead to depression?

A condition called dysautonomia also has been recognized that alters the way the body’s sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems work, affecting everything from blood pressure to thermoregulation. Experts note most of these go away within six or so months. But for some people, they seem to continue.

The University of Texas Medical Branch has an interdisciplinary Post COVID-19 Recovery Clinic, which was set up by pulmonologist Dr. Justin Seashore to address these problems. Staff there do a 90-minute comprehensive, holistic evaluation assessing breathing issues, activity and functional capacity, mood, neurocognition, nutrition and more.

One patient, a local college professor was hospitalized for two weeks with COVID pneumonia and is, for now, tethered to a portable oxygen system. He works from home, but his fatigue keeps his work capacity limited. He reported to me high satisfaction with the thoroughness of the medical center’s clinical evaluation.

Be aware, even if you had a mild COVID case, that new, unexplained or persisting symptoms might occur.

If in doubt, seek out medical advice. Your primary care doctor may be the place to start as the number of cases we anticipate will likely soon overwhelm the capacity of specialized clinics like Seashore’s medical branch Post-COVID-19 Recovery Clinic.

Supportive care is what we have now. This includes adequate rest, nutrition, immune support, activity modification, mental stimulation, stress management and gradual heart and lung rehabilitation including supplemental oxygen for some.

The pandemic is becoming endemic, like the flu, and will be with us for the foreseeable future. So, continue to maintain COVID hygiene and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

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(2) comments

Bailey Jones

[thumbup]

Virginia Stone

Thanks for the reality check.

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