Contending with Long Covid
AT THE FOREFRONT OF EFFORTS to demystify the opaque condition known as “long-COVID,” which saddles some survivors of the SARS CoV-2 virus with a slew of unpleasant and debilitating symptoms months after their bodies surmount the initial infection, is Jason Maley.
Maley leads Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Critical Illness and COVID-19 Survivorship Program, where he has worked with hundreds of these so-called long-haulers. In an interview today with Harvard Magazine, Maley, who is also an instructor at Harvard Medical School, said individual patients report unique constellations of symptoms, but fatigue is the cohort’s most common—and longest-lasting—complaint.
“They’re able to do much less activity during the day than they could do before having COVID, and they have to rest and recover for long periods of time after minimal activity,” he explained, adding that brain fog or cognitive impairment often accompanies this experience of profound exhaustion.
Neuropathy—pain or numbness in the hands and feet—is another prominent symptom, he added, though it tends to be underrepresented in general coverage of the condition. Persistent loss of, or changes in, taste or smell also tend to be hallmarks of long-COVID; for example, he said, there are “phantom smells,” like smoke, that patients can experience for months.
But such symptoms are far from exhaustive. Those with long-COVID may also endure discomfort when breathing, chest pain, muscle weakness, a heightened heart rate, dizziness, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, according to the program’s site. Faced with such varied suffering, the program requires a multidisciplinary staff—it includes specialists in neurology, psychiatry, pulmonary disease, physical therapy, social work, and more.