This week’s New Scientist is focused on it. Unlike medical professionals which are renowned for telling dying patients “You will be alright”, science journal writers tend to call spades — tools to bury the dead.
“Long covid: We have ignored post-viral syndromes for too long”
I have taken the liberty to copy their full leader section below.
IN JUNE last year, we first reported in detail on the “strange and debilitating” coronavirus symptoms that were crippling some people’s health for months after infection. Long covid, as we now know it, is indeed strange and mysterious in many ways, as we report on page 10.
But it isn’t surprising. Post-viral syndromes, which often involve extreme, lasting fatigue and other symptoms, are common after many infections. About 1 in 10 people infected with SARS-CoV-2 seem to get lasting symptoms, a similar proportion to those infected with Epstein-Barr virus, one of the most common human viruses. The SARS virus, another coronavirus, left as many as 30 per cent of survivors meeting diagnostic criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as CFS/ME, four years later.
Based on this knowledge, some doctors, scientists, and people who are already living with CFS/ME, have been warning of a tsunami of long-term debilitating symptoms at the hands of the new coronavirus since early in the pandemic.
“There are no treatments, in part due to a lack of investment in research into chronic fatigue”
Sadly, governments and health systems have taken too long to pay attention. England now has 83 long covid clinics, which are indispensable for some patients, but there is a notable absence in the rest of the UK (see “Inside the UK’s first long covid clinic: ‘It was life-changing”). Clinics are unable to cope with the number of cases and waiting lists run long. This is especially problematic because early action – such as resting rather than taking on too much physical activity – could expedite recovery. Also notable is the absence of public health campaigns on long covid, to reach those who don’t know what is wrong with them or what to do about it.
For now, there are no treatments, in part because we are decades behind where we could be due to a lack of interest and investment in researching post-viral syndromes and CFS/ME.
This must change, and we now need a similar effort for treatments of long covid and other post-viral syndromes that we have seen in the race for a vaccine. In the meantime, people with long covid symptoms must be taken seriously, and given the financial and social support they need to allow them to get better.
My own model is that post-viral syndrome are supported by a stable microbiome dysfunction. Whatever the mechanism is, it needs the altered metabolites mixture from this dysfunction to maintain the syndrome. Correct the microbiome and the severity of the syndrome will decrease, frequently disappear entirely.