Long COVID Patients at Risk for Symptom Relapses Triggered by Common Viruses

Long COVID Patients at Risk for Common Viruses

United States: Individuals may experience triggered infections such as common colds, flu, and other respiratory illnesses after recovering from long COVID. The conclusion has been made in a recently conducted study.  

Researchers suggest that these individuals might be vulnerable to viral interference, a phenomenon observed in conditions like HIV and ME/CFS.

While clinical studies are scarce, anecdotal evidence from patients, physicians, and researchers indicates that many former long COVID patients suffer recurring symptoms following subsequent viral infections, according to Medscape.

Yale researchers hypothesize that viral persistence and reactivation play significant roles in these flare-ups. Viral reactivation occurs when the immune system responds to a new infection by awakening a dormant virus.

Dr. Alba Azola, a rehabilitation specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, noted that these flare-ups are particularly common in long-term COVID patients with autonomic dysfunction and other ME/CFS symptoms.

According to a CDC survey, approximately 18 percent of respondents reported experiencing long COVID, with nearly 60 percent confirming at least one prior COVID-19 infection.

Dr. Azola recently encountered a patient who developed flu symptoms and a recurrence of previous long COVID symptoms on the same day. While specific studies on such cases are lacking, anecdotal evidence suggests these occurrences are not uncommon, as per Medscape.

“We frequently observe these cases, although there isn’t a dedicated study addressing this issue,” Azola commented.

She noted that patients typically experience a resurgence of existing symptoms rather than entirely new ones.

David Putrino, PhD, who directs Rehabilitation Innovation at Mount Sinai Health System, corroborates these observations based on his work with long COVID patients.

He explained, “Patients may recover or feel recovered from long COVID, only to experience significant flare-ups following subsequent immune challenges such as another COVID infection, flu, pregnancy, or even food poisoning.”

Dr. Jeffrey Parsonnet, an infectious diseases specialist at Dartmouth Hitchcock, preferred the term “relapse” over “reinfection” to describe cases where long COVID symptoms recur following a subsequent COVID-19 infection, as highlighted by Medscape.

“We’ve observed patients who initially recovered from COVID-19 and long COVID, only to experience a recurrence of long COVID symptoms after contracting COVID-19 again,” he stated.

He added that the recovery process varies widely among patients in terms of what improves and how quickly, noting that some individuals show minimal improvement even after several years.

In the COVID-19 Long Haulers Facebook group, which has over 100,000 members, discussions often revolve around viral reactivation. Laney Bond, RN, who manages the group, herself a survivor of post-infection chronic illness, observes, “Each time someone contracts or is reinfected with SARS-CoV-2, there’s a risk of developing or worsening long COVID, potentially leading to progressive health complications.”

Posts on the group frequently inquire about reinfections. A December post garnered nearly 80 comments detailing a range of symptoms, with some individuals reporting brief episodes of reinfection symptoms and others noting a return to their baseline condition, albeit with some improvement.

According to a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, long-term COVID exhibits a relapsing-remitting pattern similar to other complex multisystem chronic conditions like ME/CFS and Epstein-Barr virus, as per Medscape.

Regarding treatment approaches, Dr. Putrino is involved in clinical trials testing antiviral medications such as Paxlovid and drugs originally developed for HIV.

The PolyBio Institute’s research suggests that persistent SARS-CoV-2 infection in tissues or the reactivation of latent pathogens may explain COVID-19’s prolonged course.

In conclusion, long COVID appears to be a chronic condition with few patients achieving complete remission within six-12 months, according to the Academy of Sciences. The report also notes that 18-22 percent of individuals experiencing long COVID symptoms at five months continue to be ill at the one-year mark.

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