COVID-19 Q&A: Long COVID is having a serious impact on many people

March 22, 2022
Dr. Christine Hahn, Public Health Medical Director and state epidemiologist

As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are declining in Idaho and the United States, more attention is being focused on what has been called “long COVID,” “post-COVID conditions,” or “long-haul COVID,” among other names.

Long COVID is still being studied, but it has a serious impact on many people, and can occur even after a mild COVID-19 infection.

Here’s what public health and medical professionals know (and what they don’t) about the often serious set of debilitating and lingering symptoms associated with long COVID.

What is long COVID?

Although most people who get infected with COVID-19 get better within weeks of illness, some people experience health issues after they are no longer able to spread the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These post-COVID conditions, as the CDC calls them, are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Even people who did not have COVID-19 symptoms in the days or weeks after they were infected can have some of these symptoms, which can range from mild to very severe, and last for weeks, months, or longer.

CDC and other health experts around the world are working to learn more about short- and long-term negative health effects associated with COVID-19, who gets them, and why.

What are the symptoms?

Most studies of long COVID identify fatigue, muscle aches, shortness of breath, and mental health concerns among people with symptoms months after COVID infection. However, there is a lot still being learned about long COVID, and more symptoms and concerns are being identified by doctors and others studying long COVID. According to the CDC, people with post-COVID conditions may report experiencing different combinations of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities (also known as post-exertional malaise)
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
  • Cough
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Pins-and-needles feeling
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleep problems
  • Fever
  • Dizziness on standing (lightheadedness)
  • Rash
  • Mood changes
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Changes in menstrual period cycles

How long can long COVID last?

Public health and medical professionals don’t really know at this point. The lingering health issues may resolve in some people in 6-8 weeks, but other people who have long COVID symptoms have been experiencing them for many months. Whether these patients will eventually get better is being evaluated now by doctors and health researchers; we will know more over time about whether these symptoms will resolve in all patients, or if some of them may become permanent.

What is the treatment for long COVID?

Because the symptoms are so varied, treatment is different for everyone. Some clinics are starting to focus on the diagnosis and management of long COVID and usually involve health care providers from multiple specialties who work together to provide the best possible care for the patient.

Do vaccinated people also seem to have long COVID?

Both vaccinated/boosted and unvaccinated people have experienced long COVID. However, studies are showing that vaccination decreases the risk of developing long COVID, even if the vaccinated person does get a COVID infection.

What’s the best way to prevent long COVID?

The best way to prevent post-COVID conditions is to prevent COVID-19 illness. Follow current public health guidelines regarding masking, testing, and social distancing. Getting vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 is the best way to prevent getting COVID-19 and can also help protect those around you.

Dr. Christine Hahn is Idaho’s state epidemiologist and the Division of Public Health’s medical director. She is board certified in infectious disease and works in the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho’s tuberculosis clinic twice monthly. She also serves on CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and since late February 2020, has been focusing almost solely on responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Long COVID resources:

COVID-19 resources:

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The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.