Long COVID Risk Makes It Worth Avoiding Second Infections

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Dec. 19, 2022 — Alexander Truong, MD, has been seeing lengthy COVID sufferers for greater than 2 years however thought the numbers would have considerably dwindled by now. As a substitute, a gentle circulate of sufferers nonetheless reveals up on the Emory Government Park post-COVID clinic he and a colleague launched in fall 2020 in Atlanta. And amongst sufferers contaminated greater than as soon as, the signs seem worse.

“We’re positively seeing loads of sufferers who, after they get reinfected, have worsening post-COVID points. That’s very true and I believe that’s a giant sign,” says Truong, a pulmonologist and an assistant professor at Emory College’s College of Drugs.

COVID-19 is certainly not over, says Angela Cheung, MD, PhD, a senior doctor scientist with the College Well being Community and a professor of medication on the College of Toronto. And every time somebody will get contaminated, they danger growing lengthy COVID. A previous an infection doesn’t erase the danger, Cheung says.

“It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’ve had one, so it’s OK. Now I can take off my masks, do what I like.’ It has well being penalties for reinfections – greater mortality price, greater hospitalization charges, greater danger of long run, lingering signs,” she says.

New analysis means that these contaminated greater than as soon as have an elevated danger of growing lengthy COVID and different well being issues in comparison with these contaminated simply as soon as. However parsing out the extent of those dangers – significantly with newer variants – is extra difficult, Truong and different specialists say, significantly when factoring in vaccinations and antiviral remedies. 

“It is smart that repeat infections wouldn’t be useful to an individual’s well being. However I believe it is actually exhausting to know what the extra danger of every subsequent an infection can be as a result of there are all kinds of different issues within the combine,” says Michael Peluso, MD, an assistant professor of medication and an infectious ailments physician on the College of California San Francisco.

“There are vaccines — new vaccines, previous vaccines. There are variants — previous variants, new variants, and now a number of variants circulating on the similar time.”

Veterans Affairs Research

A large study involving the data of 5.8 million Division of Veterans Affairs sufferers that was revealed in Nature Drugs in November discovered that sufferers contaminated greater than as soon as had considerably greater dangers of dying, hospitalization, coronary heart issues, blood clotting, lengthy COVID, and a number of different well being points and organ injury. Notably, the study discovered that these elevated dangers remained even 6 months after reinfection.

Whereas the research highlights the elevated dangers related to reinfections, it has its limitations. The research didn’t immediately examine a primary an infection to reinfection throughout the similar pool of sufferers. It solely in contrast one group of people who had a single an infection to a separate group who had a couple of an infection. 

There might be different components that made one group extra vulnerable to reinfection and at better danger of hostile well being outcomes. The research additionally didn’t examine reinfection dangers between totally different variants or subvariants.

One other limitation is the VA inhabitants itself. The VA database is extraordinarily helpful for big research like this one as a result of it follows numerous individuals with complete medical data, specialists say, however the VA’s inhabitants of largely older white males doesn’t replicate the demographics of the overall inhabitants.

Nonetheless, the message for the general public is easy, says Cheung. “I wouldn’t get into the weeds. The large message and massive image is that reinfections are unhealthy.”

Totally different Dangers With New Variants?

Consultants say understanding reinfection dangers, significantly with the newer variants and subvariants, is difficult as a result of extra individuals are actually vaccinated in comparison with earlier within the pandemic.

“There should not any definitive solutions. … It’s very, very troublesome to disentangle the emergence of recent variants from the uptake of vaccines,” says Peluso.

“It does seem to be general there could also be much less lengthy COVID with the newer variants, however it’s very exhausting to say whether or not that could be a attribute of the virus or a attribute of the truth that most people who find themselves getting the virus have both been vaccinated or beforehand contaminated to have some totally different immune baseline from someone who’s seeing the viral antigen for the primary time.”

Nonetheless, consensus is rising that those that are vaccinated and find yourself with breakthrough infections are at decrease danger of growing lengthy COVID. One U.K. study revealed within the journal Open Discussion board Infectious Illnesses in September, for instance, discovered that individuals who had two COVID-19 vaccinations no less than 2 weeks previous to an infection had a 41% lower within the odds of growing lengthy COVID signs, in comparison with individuals who weren’t vaccinated on the time of an infection.

“We additionally know that in sufferers who’ve had their vaccinations, they’re much less prone to have a reinfection, or after they do have reinfection, they’re much less prone to have extreme an infection,” says Truong.

“That’s the one huge sign that we’ve and that’s why I am making an attempt to wave the flag as a lot as I can about getting vaccinated [and boosted].”

Whereas some knowledge suggests the dangers of lengthy COVID are decrease with Omicron variants in contrast with the Delta variant, specialists level out {that a} far better variety of individuals have been contaminated with Omicron, so even a small share of a giant quantity remains to be a big quantity. 

One study Omicron versus Delta reveals about half the danger, however half the danger in much more individuals remains to be loads of excessive absolute numbers,” Cheung says, referring to a June paper revealed in The Lancet

She nonetheless sees loads of sufferers with lengthy COVID – some contaminated as lately as this previous summer time, some vaccinated and contaminated for the primary time, and others coming in following reinfections.

And whereas Omicron variant and subvariant infections could seem milder for many individuals, docs notice new sufferers are additionally displaying up with the identical debilitating signs as those that acquired lengthy COVID earlier within the pandemic: fatigue, shortness of breath, racing coronary heart, mind fog, sleep disturbances, and psychological well being points.

“On my post-COVID clinic days, I’m nonetheless seeing 4 to eight new sufferers who had infections in 2022 are available with vital signs,” says Truong.

And lengthy COVID can kill. Greater than 3,500 dying certificates filed from the beginning of the pandemic by means of June 2022 listing lengthy COVID as a particular explanation for dying, the National Center for Health Statistics reports.

Minimizing Submit-COVID Dangers

Peluso says what could be discovered from the VA research is that repeated assaults on the immune system are harmful and that persevering with to keep away from an infection stays extraordinarily necessary.

“The easiest way for somebody to guard themselves towards that’s to keep away from getting COVID within the first place,” says Peluso. It’s a sentiment echoed by Truong and Cheung.

However given the transmissibility of the most recent variants and subvariants and the elimination of public well being measures, it’s typically troublesome to forestall an infection. Tried and true instruments do, nevertheless, work: being updated on vaccinations, sporting high-quality, well-fitted masks, advocating for good air flow, and conducting self-testing with speedy antigen exams, significantly forward of indoor occasions throughout busy vacation durations.

“It’s attainable that this may occasionally turn out to be much less frequent over time. I hope that’s true,” Peluso says. 

“It’s additionally attainable that it would go the opposite method. And so for that cause, I’m making an attempt to keep away from the entire variants.”

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