What is long Covid? Experts fear virus could lead to YEARS of mental, physical issues

Three years in, experts are finally beginning to understand what long-term effects of the virus are, say the world is in 'deep trouble'


                            What is long Covid? Experts fear virus could lead to YEARS of mental, physical issues
Site tester Pamela Deemie administers a swab at Echo Park Stadium on December 30, 2020 in Parker, Colorado. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

The year 2022 marks a third consecutive season of the Covid-19 pandemic and with each passing day, we are learning more and more about the virus. A big question that many experts have had is what effects the virus will have in the long term, a phenomenon known as 'long Covid'. That's something we are finally beginning to understand and from early reports, it doesn't look good. 

The virus has upended the world as we know it, radically shifting every aspect of our lives. Lockdowns in 2020 led to worries about a mental health crisis and infection spikes have led to worries about what it means for newborns. Since 2020, there have also been repeated calls to study the long-term effects, but back then, barely enough time had passed for such a study to take place.

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However, things are slightly different now. Not only do we have years of infection data to study, but also a sample of what living with Covid looks like. From what scientists have discovered so far, they don't seem too happy. "That is gonna create all kinds of economic consequences," noted Dr. Leonard Jason of Depaul University. In an interview with The Daily Mail, he summed up the situation by saying, "This will be a problem for society going forward... its hard for people to understand."

Marcus Young cleans a room for Joanne Childs Ferguson who is recovering from COVID-19 at Roseland Community Hospital on December 17, 2020, in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

 

What is long Covid?

Most severe diseases tend to have effects in the long term, even if they are treated. Take for example stress, while not a "disease" in the classical understanding of the term, its long-term effects are well known. Those with stress over prolonged periods (called chronic stress) can suffer from depression, anxiety, obesity, permanent hair loss, and even high blood pressure. Other diseases like Parkinson's also have long-term effects, because just like Covid, it cannot be treated fully.

The currently Covid-19 vaccines are designed only to prevent hospitalization and serious illness, not prevent the disease itself. That means even if you are vaccinated, you will catch the virus. In the short term, that shouldn't be an issue if you are vaxxed, but that doesn't mean you should throw all caution to the wind and get the virus. Because the long-term effects can be quite severe.

This is what scientists are rushing to understand because now that hospitalization rates have stabilized and we are back to going out and about, the next threat is what the virus means for us in five, 10, or even 20 years. And that's what long Covid is. It's the mental and physical consequences a person suffers from years or even decades after they have recovered from Covid-19.

A patient lies on a stretcher in a hallway in the overloaded Emergency Room at Providence St. Mary Medical Center on January 5, 2021, in Apple Valley, California. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Long Covid effects

According to Dr. Jason, long Covid can manifest in a large number of ways, some small and relatively insignificant, and others that are extremely concerning. Right now, the most common ones are altered or loss of smell and crippling fatigue. In very rare cases, experts have also noticed severe psychiatric symptoms, and that's just what they've found till now. There's no telling what other symptoms could present in the future.

Long Covid affects not just older people or those with pre-existing conditions, but can also be found in very healthy young people, which is why there is so much concern. Even mild effects like headaches or loss of smell can lead to an inferior quality of living, and hurt people's abilities to fully contribute to society and the economy. Dr Jason also noted that many will require a caretaker in the long term, pulling people out of the economy to support loved ones.  

Given how unpredictable the virus is, and how complicated the human body is, Dr Noah Greenspan said the whole world is in "deep trouble". Studies are likely to continue in the future, but for now, we should take it as a warning sign that the pandemic may go, but Covid-19 is certainly here to stay. 

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.