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Long-haul COVID: Doctors still learning more and making advancements when it comes to treating patients

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More than a year and half into the COVID-19 pandemic and doctors and researchers are still learning more about the virus.

One area that doctors feel they’re gaining some headway with is with long COVID.

“It doesn’t look like long-haul COVID is going anywhere at this point,” said Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn. He is a Mayo Clinic occupational medicine specialist. He’s spent the last year working with hundreds of patients diagnosed with long-haul or post-COVID syndrome.

People with post-COVID typically had a mild or acute case of COVID to begin with.

Then, a couple weeks or even months after they think they’ve beaten the virus, they start presenting with other symptoms.

“The trouble with long-haul COVID is that it’s so very nebulous. There’s no specific diagnostic criteria yet, an objective test that we can do to really nail down who has long haul COVID versus something else,” said Vanichkachorn.

The symptoms range from ongoing shortness of breath, brain fog, and overall fatigue. And just like cases of COVID, long-haul cases range from mild to severe enough that people are losing their quality of life.

“They may have shortness of breath to the point that they need to remain on oxygen for several months after their infection or not be able to do the basic activities of life like walk across their home to take a shower and so forth,” said Vanichkachorn.

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Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn.

Vanichkachorn says doctors have made progress in treating long-haul COVID and more treatment clinics are popping up around the country.

One area doctors and researchers are still learning about is the impact the vaccine has on long-haul cases.

Vanichkachorn says there have a been a few cases of breakthrough infections leading to long-haul COVID.

“But it’s rare. So that’s a good sign. In addition, the individuals that we have been treating and interacting with, they do seem to get better faster than the rest of our population, the individuals that do not have a breakthrough infection,” he said.

Vanichkachorn says it’s too early to draw any conclusions between the breakthrough infections and long-haul COVID.

They’ve been seeing patients sooner for most long-haul cases.

That seems to be making the biggest difference in treatment.

“We are seeing patients a lot sooner now after their infections compared to earlier in the pandemic. I think there’s more recognition about this possibility in 3 or 4 weeks out from their acute infections start. So is it the fact that people are vaccinated and that gives them a lot less of a chance of having long haul COVID or are we interacting sooner? That remains to be determined.”

Vanichkachorn believes early detection is key in preventing more severe cases.

“Looking back, the patients that presented to the clinic earlier in their long-haul COVID course, say about 5 to 6 weeks after their infection, they seem to be getting better faster than say someone who presents at 7 months out from their infection,” he said.

The best way to avoid getting long-haul COVID is to avoid getting COVID to begin with.

Vanichkachorn urges people to get vaccinated if you haven’t already and take other preventative measures like masking wearing where appropriate, social distancing, and frequent hand washing.

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