Johns Hopkins study focuses on COVID-19 long-haulers

Published: May 11, 2022 7:09 PM EDT
Updated: May 11, 2022 7:12 PM EDT

As the number of COVID cases slowly rises again, health experts are looking at the long-term effects many people are experiencing.

Johns Hopkins School Bloomberg of Public Health is studying both surges and long-haulers.

The worst of the pandemic may be behind us but for many survivors, the struggle isn’t over.

The school is finding that a third of people who contracted the virus have lingering symptoms. A striking discovery with more than 15,000 people enrolled in their research, they found long COVID is not reserved for people who had severe cases.

“We see are that it’s pretty much almost everything. It’s not as clear-cut as it was for those who would get hospitalized. I think most striking and we’re consistent with other reports is that we’re seeing that it spans the ages, it spans the sexes, it spans comorbidities, and it spans initial infection being varied,” said Dr. Priya Duggal, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Covid long-haulers are defined as people with persistent symptoms three months after their initial infection, with those symptoms lasting two months or more. Lingering effects can range from mild to life-threatening.

“Some people experience having a loss of sense of smell that persists for six months or longer. And others now have new cardiac outcomes, including congestive heart failure, right, that have debilitated them in a completely different way. So it’s our ability to quantify that as well,” Duggal said.

There is no single, effective treatment. It is uncertain whether the persistent issues relate to remnants of infection or are triggered by the immune system.

Researchers say doctors are best positioned to help by looking at and treating symptoms on an individual basis.

Johns Hopkins is also analyzing variants including whether new strains are less destructive.

“The average case of COVID-19 does seem to be getting milder, but this is probably more because we as a population are building up immunity, not because the variants are necessarily getting milder on their own,” said Dr. David Dowdy, an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The number of long haulers is likely to increase with new infections. Once again, making vaccination the best line of defense. Johns Hopkins is looking to the future to determine long-term, permanent disability.

Early indications show if 1% of people are functionally disabled, that would add up to almost 1 million people.