An Investigation Into the Lives of COVID “Long Haulers” and Insight Into an Ongoing Epidemic
Anirudh Gundapantula, duPont Manual High School, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
A novel issue has presented itself with regards to COVID-19 that does not concern a variant. Long COVID or, as scientists call it “post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infections” refers to lingering COVID symptoms far from the date of onset (What is Long COVID (PASC), 2021). In addition to the established COVID symptoms of fever along with cough and cold, Long COVID presents novel and potentially more dangerous symptoms, including neurological and mental health conditions (Pathak, 2021). This article will explore those effects and the lives of patients living with Long COVID.
Unlike any variant, Long COVID symptoms manage to affect a person’s body for a month to one year after initial diagnosis. Research indicates that 1 in 5 people, from ages 18-64 have one medical condition that is caused by COVID-19. In the US, at ages 65 and up, 1 in 4 people face a medical condition due to COVID-19 (“COVID – 19: Long Term Effects”, 2022). Microbiologist Amy Proal theorizes that the credit for the virus’ persistence stems from the replication of the virus. After penetrating the cell wall or membrane, the virus inserts its genetic instructions into a cell. A virus contains genetic instructions, which are used to hijack a cell’s regular processes to make components for the virus to expand (“How do viruses infect our cells”, n.d). In the same manner, Proal hypothesizes that replication leads to the persistence of the virus in multiple body sites. This theory is not supported well, as numerous studies could not prove a link between lingering illness and causing COVID-19 (Couzin–Frankel, 2022).
Patients who experience Long COVID can have symptoms as mild as a persistent cough and cold, to severe effects like heart palpitations and “brain fog”, which causes difficulty in concentration. With symptoms that ebb and flow, patients are left guessing as to what their condition will be daily. For example, Matt Umberger, a 54-year-old patient from Oregon, experienced a high fever and soon became critically ill with COVID. Umberger told the American Hospital Association that during the road to recovery he felt like a “95-year-old-man” (American Hospital Association, n.d). Even younger patients, like Chris Wilhelm, a 20-year-old at Johns Hopkins, are at risk. Before his diagnosis, Wilhelm was an active participant in the Johns Hopkins cross-country team. After contracting COVID, he had a relatively speedy recovery, until his cough returned and worsened. Wilhelm is one of the 2 to 10% of young people (as young as 9) who will experience Long COVID. Younger people are often prone to doubt regarding symptoms, as people assume they are the most active in society. In Wilhelm’s case, he doubts he has symptoms some days, until his heart races to the point where he is unable to get up from a couch. This is one of the dangerous effects of Long COVID, as it can bleed into other systems, wreaking havoc on a person’s overall health (Winny, 2021).
Today, many are ignoring the pleas of health officials to get fully boosted, as it seems that cases have dwindled. However, booster shots are a force against variants like Omnicron. A recent New England Study published by co-author Laith Jamal Abu-Raddad found that those vaccinated with the original two shots but did not take the booster had no longevity in their COVID-19 immunity. Although they had resistance to severe disease, they were still at risk of contracting the virus (Altarawneh et al., 2022). As of September 13th, 2022, in the US, the number of vaccinated people is slowing down, as only 67.66 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, while 11.53 percent are partly vaccinated (Our World in Data). This data illustrates the fatigue in following COVID protocols. This fatigue is much more potent than any variant could ever be. Although many cite herd immunity as a protective umbrella against the disease, it is yet to be known when it will be attained. Barry Bloom, professor of public health at Harvard University, describes another solution in which vaccines target stable and non-mutating portions of the virus to build a durable immunity that does not need to be changed every year (like the common cold) (Goodman, 2022). This would only occur after further research is completed on the virus. Until this solution is formulated, the best-guaranteed protection we have from Long COVID and COVID in general is vaccination.
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