Long Covid Is Just Getting Started. We’re Not Ready for It.
Long Covid Is Just Getting Started. We’re Not Ready for It. Even after the pandemic, we don’t know what Covid holds for us. But we should be prepared.
Hey Friend! Every couple of weeks, I publish a piece with the The New Republic. This week I wrote about long COVID — how little we know, how we need to be prepared for what it may bring. You can find the full piece at the newrepublic.com.
Here’s an excerpt. I hope you enjoy.
We usually think of chickenpox as a childhood illness. After all, most of us older than 30 probably spent a week in grade school scratching those little pustules. Some of our parents may even have taken us to a “chickenpox party” to make sure we avoided adult chickenpox, which can be deadly. My mother avoided chickenpox until I got it, and she suffered horribly during her illness. But that’s not the only way chickenpox affects adults. The varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, also causes a painful illness we firmly associate with older age: shingles.
After a pediatric infection with VZV has cleared, the virus can migrate to the dorsal root ganglia, nerve bundles near the spinal cord from which emerge the sensory nerves that mediate our skin’s senses. There, the virus sits idly, waiting for our immune system either to weaken or get preoccupied fighting another infection. When that moment comes, it travels down the nerve to cause a painful blistery rash. Thankfully, vaccinations for both chickenpox and shingles make the diseases far rarer than they once were.
But VZV should serve us a warning: Viruses can have long-range implications well after they’ve initially infected us. Just ask the millions of people already suffering from long Covid, which we’re only now starting to understand.
At least 78.6 million people have been infected with Covid-19—though that’s a vast underestimate considering the underreporting of cases during the omicron surge. Upward of 30 percent of those infected report longer-lasting symptoms that range from fatigue to brain fog to joint pain. And that’s just the long Covid we know about.