The Winter Viral Season is Here and So is Long COVID
Errol Buntuyan, M.D., FAAFP
The virus season has officially begun and is in full swing. All across the nation, the reports of influenza infection have risen in the last month and were reported to be ten times higher than at this similar point last year. Also, the rates of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, an upper respiratory disease most severe in young children and the elderly, have tripled in the past two months. As many as six new Omicron variants have also been noted and are currently being tracked by experts. These Omicron variants are poised to cause a surge in the coming winter months.
The last two years of the pandemic along with the masking and social distancing safety protocols have protected us from these viral illnesses. Our collective immunity against the flu and RSV was relatively low coming into this 2020 viral season. Now the world is back to its full swing of activity, we are seeing the recirculation of these viral illnesses.
The good news is the symptoms of all three of these viral illnesses have been mild for the majority of children and adults who are getting infected. These infections resemble ‘common cold’ symptoms. These infections, however, are causing a large volume of outpatient clinic visits to urgent care centers, emergency rooms and medical office visits for people who want to get tested and seek advice on how to get better. See below on common cold remedies from the Mayo Clinic.
Those who are immunocompromised are at the greatest risk of suffering from severe illness. Those who have immunodeficiency or who have chronic medical diseases like diabetes, obesity and lung diseases are more likely to suffer from symptoms. The advice to get your vaccinations for COVID and for influenza remains the same as it has been for the last two years. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for RSV.
Many have relinquished to thinking the pandemic is over. Many know getting infected with COVID only yields mild symptoms and recovery is usually quick. There is, however, a broad range of health problems experienced by a significant number of individuals after contracting the virus.
Long COVID is defined as anyone having post COVID symptoms for more than three months. Some studies show one in four working age adults have resulted in long COVID. Also, of those with long COVID, twenty-five percent are unable to work due to their lingering health problems. Long COVID is also more prevalent in middle aged adults, many of whom are at the peak of their working years.
The most common long COVID symptoms are chronic fatigue and brain fog, which are causing these individuals to be unemployed or working reduced hours. This is certainly contributing to the labor shortage as approximately four million working age adults in the U.S. are no longer working because of these long COVID symptoms.
The overall message is to avoid getting COVID. Multiple infections with COVID yield a greater chance of suffering from long COVID symptoms. Once again, getting up to date on your COVID and influenza vaccinations will keep you protected. Also, if you are feeling at all sick with a viral illness, stay home and be distanced. It is best to not expose others to your symptoms. Only return to work and social activities once you are no longer having symptoms.
Thus far, the winter viral season is heading towards a large number of infections. Do your best to stay aware and mindful of your own symptoms. Protect yourself and others by getting vaccinated, staying up to date on the latest immunizations, and staying distanced when having viral symptoms.
Errol Buntuyan, M.D. is a Family Medicine Practitioner and the Physician in Charge of Maui Primary Care at Kaiser Permanente. Born in Quezon City and raised in Southern California, he has been practicing medicine on Maui since 2007. Dr. Buntuyan promotes whole food, plant based nutrition, regular physical activity, stress mindfulness and sleep hygiene as keys to optimum health and wellness. He enjoys cooking, playing tennis and travel.