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May 26, 2024

New research shows increased risk of long COVID with reinfections

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Dec 28, 2023

Recent studies find multiple COVID infections raise chances of developing lasting health issues

New research indicates that the risk of developing long COVID, with symptoms persisting months or years, goes up significantly with each new coronavirus infection, even mild or asymptomatic cases. Several studies published in the past week have furthered our understanding of the prevalence and risk factors of this little-understood aspect of the pandemic.

Long COVID refers to a wide range of ongoing health issues that can occur after a COVID-19 infection, including brain fog, extreme fatigue, headaches, heart palpitations, digestive issues, muscle aches, and more. It’s estimated that 30-50% of COVID survivors deal with lingering symptoms.

Reinfections increase risk

A major study out of Washington University analyzed the anonymous health records of over 5 million U.S. veterans. It found that those who had COVID multiple times were twice as likely to have lung issues and heart conditions and 60% more likely to experience long term health problems overall compared to those who only had COVID once.

Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, senior author, noted: “The risk just keeps going up with additional infections. We also observed that vaccines significantly protect against long COVID but that this protection declines with time.”

The head of Australia’s peak ME/CFS organization (often triggered by viral infections) warns that long COVID is creating “a secondary pandemic” with a huge wave of disability:

“Many of them can’t work, study, look after their children or themselves. They become reliant on loved ones for basic daily tasks.”

She called for more government support and research funding to deal with this looming crisis.

Prevalence higher than thought

Earlier this month, a survey of 350 hospitals in 56 countries including the U.S. published results indicating that over half of hospitalized patients report at least one lingering symptom a year after infection. Two-thirds of outpatients had one or more symptoms after 12+ months.

This real-world data suggests long COVID prevalence is higher than many estimates and makes clear it can happen even after a mild illness not requiring hospital admission.

Repeat infections particularly dangerous

Vaccines continue to effectively prevent severe disease but their protection fades over time, allowing for potential reinfections. With new COVID subvariants emerging and immunity waning from past variants, repeat infections are becoming more common.

Recent news coverage has highlighted individuals dealing with crippling long COVID symptoms after 3, 4 or even 5 separate coronavirus infections over 2-3 years.

While the causative biological mechanisms of long COVID are still being unraveled, research is coalescing around this central point: all infections additively increase future risk, whether mild or severe. This means prevention of any infection through updated boosters and other measures remains critical.

Monoclonal antibodies potential treatment

Though no definitive treatments for long COVID exist yet, recovered patients and experts alike express hope that options are on the horizon:

“Knowing the science is evolving and changing does give me hope that there might be some more concrete answers or treatment plans in the future”

In particular, a recent double-blind trial showed significant improvement in symptoms for a subset of long COVID patients utilizing monoclonal antibody therapy.

Dr. Raed Dweik, pulmonology professor involved with the research: “For the first time we have something to offer these patients… Even if it helps a small subset of patients, that’s a good start.”

Calls for more resources

Many doctors and researchers are urging policymakers not to lose sight of long COVID amidst loosening public health guidelines and reduced coronavirus media coverage.

Citing estimates that 5-23% of those infected end up with lasting complications, they advocate for specialized clinics and rehab programs to diagnose and assist recovering patients, along with expanded scientific investigation to uncover better treatments.

The road ahead

Though uncertainties remain regarding long COVID’s origins and ideal management, a passel of recent studies are coalescing around the importance of preventing reinfections whenever possible to mitigate occurrence of lasting symptoms.

Updated COVID boosters targeting current strains, air filtration/ventilation, paid sick leave policies, mask wearing in high-risk situations, and rapid testing if symptoms develop can all play a role in further driving down community transmission rates.

Staying up to date on the latest public health guidance as the virus continues evolving remains key, especially for those at increased risk of complications like immunocompromised individuals and seniors.

Many hopes are being pinned on emerging therapeutics like monoclonal antibodies and anti-inflammatory drugs specifically targeting neurological, pulmonary, cardiac and other widespread long COVID symptoms.

Though the present looks difficult for long haulers struggling with disability and health systems grappling with previously unknown demand, the future hopefully holds promise as research progresses on prevention, identification, and treatment of this formidable foe.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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