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A huge peer reviewed study in PLOS Medicine underscores just how much of a threat long COVID-19 presents: 1 in 3 survivors display symptoms of the disease 3 to 6 months after initial infection.
Exhausted infection preventionists and other health care professionals may want to be done with COVID-19—just as, presumably, everybody else in the United States and the world would like to be done with it—but COVID-19, sadly, may not be done with us. Even as new infections of COVID-19 fell by 25% over the past 2 weeks according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, signaling that perhaps the worst of the Delta variant lays behind us, new data provide a view of what may lay ahead.
And it’s not pretty.
A large study in PLOS Medicine shows that 1 in 3 survivors of COVID-19 display symptoms of the disease 3 to 6 months after initial infection. Scientists and medical experts have had to often depend on studies that have not yet been peer reviewed because COVID-19 moves so quickly. The fact that the PLOS Medicine study had been peer reviewed may make the findings that much more disconcerting. The study also may help put to rest suggestions that COVID-19’s effects linger as long as those of influenza’s and, in fact, possibly put a dent in suggesting any sort of equivalency about the two, other than the fact that they can both present as viral infections (but COVID-19 can affect other organs in the body).
“The research found that over 1 in 3 patients had one or more features of long-COVID recorded between 3 and 6 months after a diagnosis of COVID-19,” the study states. “This was significantly higher than after influenza.”
This bolsters arguments that some experts have been making that long COVID-19 presents a huge and—until now, at least—for the most part unexamined problem, and that unvaccinated children who get the disease may feel the effects of it in the years to come.
One of those experts is Kevin Kavanagh, MD, a member of Infection Control Today®’s (ICT®’s) Editorial Advisory Board who, in a Viewpoint published Monday, forcefully described the differences between COVID-19 and the flu. “Unlike influenza, SARS-CoV-2 uses ACE2 receptors to infiltrate cells,” Kavanagh wrote. “Similar to HIV, SARS-CoV-2 can silently spread throughout the host’s body and attack almost every organ.”
The PLOS Medicine study states that “the fact that the risk is higher after COVID-19 than after influenza suggests that their origin might, in part, directly involve infection with SARS-CoV-2 and is not just a general consequence of viral infection.”
To reach that conclusion, researchers with the University of Oxford, the National Institute for Health Research and the Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, looked at data from 273,618 patients who’d been diagnosed with COVID-19. The analysis was conducted on July 18, 2021, and the patients had been diagnosed with COVID-19 on or before December 16, 2020.
As ICT®’s’s sister publication, Contagion®, has reported, pharmaceutical companies want to develop a vaccine for children aged 5 to <12 years old. The PLOS Medicine data suggest that such a vaccine is needed. The study states that “it is notable that long-COVID features were also recorded in children and young adults, and in more than half of non-hospitalized patients, confirming that they occur even in young people and those who had a relatively mild illness…. This is significant in public health terms, given that most people with COVID-19 are in the latter group. It is also of interest that almost 40% of patients with long-COVID symptoms recorded between 3 and 6 months had not had any such diagnosis in the first 3 months. Some of this may reflect a delay in presentation but also suggests that some patients may have a delayed onset of long-COVID features.”
Kavanagh warned that COVID-19 “is affecting kids and kids can be affected long term. The idea of focusing on deaths is absolutely ludicrous. I know patient after patient and my friends also have been affected. They are developing long COVID. And I’m talking about arrhythmias, chronic coughs. One has her hair falling out two to three months after the infection. It is not good. This is causing heart disease, myocarditis, vasculitis in a number of patients.”
He added: “I need to ask you this. Do you really want to have our children as the guinea pigs to find out what the Delta variant’s going to do? Because let’s face it, we are confronted with a more contagious, a more lethal virus that’s more apt to affect the young.”
The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a worldwide pandemic on March 11, 2020. Kavanagh had warned of the worldwide effects of COVID-19 in an ICT® article on February 27, 2020.
When in May 2020, there had been talk of ending lockdowns and lifting mitigation efforts because of dwindling COVID-19 infections, Kavanagh warned about going too fast.
On May 28, 2020, Kavanagh told ICT® that “what worries me the most about reopening is that people going to say, ‘Oh, it’s over with’ and not do any sort of protection, whether it’s social distancing, wearing masks, not gathering in crowds. I really think that people will think, ‘Well, we got this beat. So, we’re going to go out and have a good time over Memorial Day weekend.’ And I think that is the most dangerous thing.”