I see references to “long COVID” or “long-haul COVID” almost every day. No, it’s not an extended COVID infection or an extra scary version of COVID. It’s about lingering or new symptoms after recovery from the infection. Reportedly, these symptoms range from fatigue or anxiety to joint pain. Sometimes they are rather unusual afflictions such as “COVID toes”, described as rashes or red spots on toes. Sebastian Rushworth notes that there is “no hard evidence that long COVID is a distinct entity”. It was essentially invented on social media by groups of individuals who connected to discuss various post-COVID symptoms. Rushworth says:
“The most common symptoms in people with long covid (defined in the study as still having symptoms after four weeks) were fatigue (98%) and intermittent headache (91%). … symptoms of long covid are extremely unspecific, so it is probable that long covid is actually a whole bunch of different things, of which I would think post-viral syndrome is likely a significant part.”
Post-viral syndrome should not be a big surprise, since COVID is, well, a virus! PVS can last for months and commonly has the following symptoms:
- trouble concentrating
- aches and pains in the muscles
- stiff joints
- a sore throat
- swollen lymph nodes
- feeling “unwell”
Those sound familiar. PVS symptoms are thought to be a consequence of the body’s effort to fight off a virus, including the lingering effects of a strong immune response and the inflammation it can induce. Such an immune response can lead to even greater problems for those with a genetic predisposition for autoimmune diseases like diabetes. It happens. But none of this is new or unique to COVID.
While PVS and autoimmune diseases are very real, the unbridled panic over COVID has led to a few false claims. “COVID toes” is one of them. Moreover, the pandemic precipitated an avalanche of poor-quality academic research, rushed in an effort to produce useful findings. Some of that research is implicated in the COVID myths we’ve heard. An example discussed at the last link is the incidence of heart inflammation or myocarditis in COVID patients. This was all over the media in the months leading up to the college football season, as young athletes were said to be vulnerable. In fact, it’s incidence among COVID patients is fairly rare, and it’s not unique to COVID.
COVID can be a nasty infection, primarily for the aged and those with pre-existing conditions, including obesity. PVS is an unfortunate reality for many patients. But “long-COViD” is merely a varied collection of post-viral symptoms. Many of them are vague and usually self-diagnosed. Long COVID is, as Rushworth says, “basically whatever the person who thinks they have it says it is.” That the media has promoted long COVID and its varied manifestations as something wholly new, including a few probable “imagifestations” (to coin a term), is one more example of the “panic porn” to which we’ve been subjected during the pandemic.