‘Long COVID can be quite debilitating’: What Alaska’s health experts say about COVID-19 symptoms that linger
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - More than 60,000 Alaskans have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began and some of them have experienced symptoms that linger for weeks and even months after they’re considered to be “recovered.”
Experts often refer to the condition as “long COVID,” and the patients experiencing it as long-haulers.
“Many people continue to develop, to have ongoing symptoms like cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, many people report to have brain fog and just having kind of fuzzy thinking, things like that. Hair loss is another symptom of long COVID,” explained Chief Epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin. “For some people, the symptoms of long COVID can be quite debilitating and very, very similar to chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms.”
“Long COVID” is not considered a reportable condition in Alaska, McLaughlin said, meaning the state does not require that it be tracked. He said he isn’t aware of any other state that currently does either.
While public health experts don’t have the data to determine what percentage of patients who test positive go on to develop “long COVID,” they know it is occurring.
“It’s something that we are all taking very seriously,” said McLaughlin. “We’re hoping that we, in the very near future, we’ll see some large meta analyses that come out from research institutions that really give us a better sense for what proportion of people develop ‘long COVID’ and are certain people at higher risk than others.”
Dr. Dustin McLemore, an intensivist at Alaska Native Medical Center, told Alaska’s News Source during an interview in March that he has treated patients experiencing “long COVID,” and people often underestimate how slow recovery from the disease can be.
“We’re seeing people in our clinics, even now, people who have had COVID three to six months ago, and they’re still a little short of breath, a little bit tired., they still are a little cloudy mentally,” he said.
Reports have started to circulate pointing to possible symptom relief among long-haulers who get vaccinated for COVID-19 — news McLaughlin called encouraging.
“I have not seen any peer reviewed journal articles or studies on this yet, but really have been trying to keep up on reports that have come out. Again, these are anecdotal reports where clinicians are being interviewed by reporters and the clinicians are saying, ‘Hey, a lot of my patients are getting symptom relief,’” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin’s message to Alaskans has been consistent during several public health Echo discussions: preventing COVID-19 also means avoiding “long COVID.”
“There are lots of really good reasons to be vaccinated. This is one of the big ones,” he said. “If you don’t get COVID, you’re not going to get ‘long COVID.’ And we know that these vaccines, like the mRNA vaccines for example, have been shown to be 95% effective at preventing COVID disease. So, if you get vaccinated, there’s a 95% chance you’re not going to get COVID.”
There are three different COVID-19 vaccines currently available to Alaskans. Vaccine appointments can be made online at covidvax.alaska.gov.
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