Covid Long Haulers Tend to be Woman, People of Color, of all Ages and Underserved

Author: Luiza Cavalcante (Leftist)

A recent study of 153 COVID-19 patients by Dr. Liam Townsend at Trinity College Dublin, has found that lingering symptoms (including fatigue, general ill-health, and breathlessness) are all common following COVID-19 infections regardless of the disease’s severity. The research shows that a whopping 62% of patients had not returned to full health 75 days after the onset of the disease, as well as suggests that women under 60 years of age are disproportionately affected. “Long-haulers”, whose symptoms present similarly to those documented in Townsend’s study, do not recover from the Coronavirus disease after weeks or months. They are suggested to make up as much as 10% of all COVID-19 patients.

A chronic viral infection is under the umbrella term of “persistent infections”, conditions that occur when a primary infection is not cleared by the adaptive immune response. Chronic viral infections can directly follow a primary infection or may take months, years, or even decades to develop. Considering the recency of the Coronavirus disease and consequential lack of research regarding its long term clinical presentations, it remains unclear how long the infection and the disease itself can linger. It is evident that the severity of chronic viral infections should not be understated: according to Emory University, models suggest that chronic viral infections can contribute to certain cancers, diabetes, and athetosis. 

COVID-19 long haulers are considered an underserved community, according to Healthline. While healthcare workers across the country struggle with keeping ICU beds available and stopping the spread, patients with non life threatening- albeit, chronic- presentations of the Coronavirus disease are understandably a second priority. However, chronic viral infection symptoms-  in the instance of COVID most commonly: fatigue, shortness or breath, cough, and chest pain -can be excruciating to live with. Dr. Scott Krakower, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital, was diagnosed with COVID in April and was treated by fellow physicians until June. He says of the long haul illness, “Our country doesn’t have support in place [to treat it]. A lot of this is figuring it out and is based on your provider and how much they’ve read and kept up with the literature.” It is unclear how many people currently have long haul COVID but as infection rates in the U.S. rise, Dr. Robert Glatter of Lenox Hill Hospital predicts there will be “hundreds of thousands” of patients with chronic viral infections, presenting significant needs for long term multidimensional healthcare. It remains unclear whether the U.S.’s health infrastructure will be able to meet the challenge.

Black and Asian individuals in the United States are at higher risk for infecting COVID than white individuals, according to a recent study from the University of Leicester. These findings contextualize the quality of care threat to long haul COVID patients from minority ethnic groups. According to a 2010 report by Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Black people received worse care than white people for about 40% of measures and Asian people received worse care than white people for about 20% of measures. 

Additionally, as Dr. Zucker Krakower noted, a crucial aspect that determines a long haul COVID patient’s quality of care is whether their healthcare provider keeps up with recent publications and research. Research suggests that minorities, the poor, people in inner cities and rural areas, and the uninsured are more likely to not have a regular source of medical care, making care by physicians with up to date knowledge on chronic viral covid sporadic. 

 Dr. Townsend of Trinity College found that women under 60 are especially at risk for long haul COVID. This poses a new burden for a demographic that already faces inequitable 

healthcare in everything from having to pay  higher insurance premiums to being more likely to be diagnosed with an under researched autoimmune disease. 

It is possible that we’re about to face another public health emergency, one that disproportionately affects people of color and women, in respect to the predicted hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 patients who will develop a chronic viral infection and require multidimensional, long term care. Dr. Rany Condos, clinical professor of pulmonary medicine and critical care at NYU Langone cautions, “As we think about how many millions are affected with COVID, you can imagine over the next two years, if not longer, we will continue to see a large number of patients with long-haul symptoms.”  We’re on the brink of an uncertain future. 

“It’s a public health emergency”, she stated.

To protect yourself and your community from the ongoing spread of COVID-19, abide by guidelines set by the CDC and local authorities. Help stop the spread by wearing a well-fitting mask, washing your hands, and maintaining a safe distance from others.

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