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What Is Long COVID and Why Do so Many People Have It?

A patient is checked by a doctor at a COVID-19 sub-intensive care unit of the Tor Vergata Hospital, in Rome, Monday, Feb. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
A patient is checked by a doctor at a COVID-19 sub-intensive care unit of the Tor Vergata Hospital, in Rome, Monday, Feb. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Many people who become infected with COVID-19 experience a number of health problems months and even years after they test negative again.  These include fatigue, brain fog, and difficulty breathing, varying in severity. It's a condition called Long COVID. Often, it affects people who had only a mild case of COVID and in some people is much worse than the initial infection.

The CDC estimates one in three people who had COVID-19 suffers from some degree of Long COVID.  Therefore, the Department of Health and Human Services is starting an urgent new push to research this mysterious condition and help the millions of Americans who are struggling with it, to include by providing doctors with guidelines for treating long COVID and maintaining access to insurance coverage.

"Long COVID is real and there is still so much we don't know about it," said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra at a White House COVID Response Team press briefing this month. 

Currently, the causes of long COVID are not yet well understood and treatment largely focuses on helping patients cope with their symptoms.  This new initiative hopes to change that. 

Dr. Marjorie Roberts has been suffering from Long COVID for nearly two years.  She told CBN News during that time her life has gradually diminished from the successful and healthy woman she was before contracting COVID-19. 

"But once I got COVID, and now on the other side of it, all I have now is my faith, my family, and my friends," she said. 

She experiences a number of health problems she never had before becoming infected with COVID. "Losing my breath, exhaustion, a level of fatigue that I have never in my life experienced," she said. "There are just so many different things."

Shelby Boyd told CBN News her Long COVID made it impossible for her to work. "Being in bed for about six months and having just chronic pain. I had tremors. I had blackouts," she said. 

The wife and mother of two says before COVID she was full of energy. "I rode horses," she said. "I was a super busy body. I'd been in the business world for eight years working."

Neuroscientist Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science told CBN News the increased focus on Long COVID is warranted. 

"There's so much interest and attention around long COVID now, as there should be because it's affecting so many of us," he said. 

Mahncke points to research suggesting the brains of Long COVID patients share commonalities with those of people with "chemo brain" and Alzheimer's Disease.

"COVID almost certainly affects what we call the blood-brain barrier," he said, "Normally there's a tight seal that keeps toxins and various kinds of chemicals we don't want, out of our brain, and in our blood, but COVID seems to weaken that."

Researchers found that people who had COVID-19 were about 40% more likely to develop diabetes within a year after recovering, compared to people who had not been infected with the virus. 

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky noted the increased diabetes risk for COVID survivors at a White House COVID Response Team press briefing this month. "The science is definitely starting to demonstrate this link between people who previously had COVID and increasing rates of new diabetes diagnosis," she said. 

Diana Berrent founded Survivor Corp an organization that offers support for people with Long COVID. "We have over 200,000 members and sadly it is just growing and growing and growing," she told CBN News, "And I should also mention that children are not spared."

So while for the last two years, much of the focus of the COVID-19 pandemic has been preventing illness, hospitalization, and death, the medical community is now turning its attention to another facet of the pandemic, Long COVID, a mysterious condition that for some people, is worse than their initial infection.  

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