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Long COVID: More Clues Coming, but No 'Aha' Moments Yet

In late April 2020, about 6 weeks after the pandemic was declared, physical therapist David Putrino, PhD, PT, was in the middle of a weekly meeting with other staff members at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City to assess their COVID patients' progress.

"One of the clinical staff mentioned that they were concerned about a patient that was lingering on the [COVID] program and still not doing well with fatigue, a high heart rate, and cognition issues,'' said Putrino, director of rehabilitation innovation for the health system. "Then a bunch of other clinicians chimed in on the same call that they had a patient just like that."

A search of the database revealed that the healthcare professionals had detected a trend.

Other healthcare professionals around the country who were caring for COVID patients were encountering similar cases. Although many patients who caught the virus recovered and went back to their regular routines relatively quickly, others suffered with fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, and other health problems for several weeks or even months. Some were unable to work, care for their families, or even complete a routine errand. It was happening among patients who had had a severe case as well as those who had had a mild one.

Now, experts estimate that from 10% to 30% of COVID survivors may develop this condition, called long COVID. It is diagnosed when signs and symptoms of COVID that can't be explained by other causes are present 4 weeks after the initial infection.

It's also called post-acute sequalae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC). "We are closing in on potentially 14 million people," said Steven Flanagan, MD, vice-president (and soon to be president-elect) of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPMR) and chair of rehabilitation medicine at NYU Langone Health, New York City.

Some experts warn that it is ''our next public health disaster in the making."

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