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Home HEALTH Unraveling the interaction of Omicron, Reinfections and Long Covid

Unraveling the interaction of Omicron, Reinfections and Long Covid

The latest wave of covid-19, caused by a shifting mix of rapidly evolving omicron sub-variants, seems to be slowing downwith cases and hospitalizations starting to drop.

Like past waves of covid, this one will leave a lingering mark in the form of prolonged covid, an ill-defined umbrella term for a set of symptoms that can include debilitating fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and mental fogginess.

Although omicron infections are getting lighter In general than those caused by last summer’s delta variant, omicron has also been shown to be capable of triggering long-term symptoms and organ damage. But whether omicron causes prolonged covid symptoms with the same frequency and severity as earlier variants is a hot topic of study.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, is among the researchers who say the much higher number of omicron infections compared to earlier variants indicates a need to prepare for a significant increase in people with prolonged covid. The United States has recorded nearly 38 million Covid infections so far this year as omicron has covered the nation. That’s about 40% of all reported infections since the start of the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center.

Long Covid “is a parallel pandemic that most people aren’t even thinking about,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale University. “I suspect that there will be millions of people who get covid for a long time after omicron infection.”

Scientists have only just begun to compare variants head to head, with varying results. weather a recent study in The Lancet suggests omicron is less likely to cause prolonged covid, another found the same rate of neurological problems After omicron and delta infections.

Estimates of the proportion of patients affected by prolonged covid also vary, from 4% to 5% in adults with triple vaccination a up to 50% among the unvaccinated, based on differences in the populations studied. One reason for that wide range is that prolonged covid has been defined very differently in different studies, ranging from self-reported confusion for a few months after infection to a dangerously impaired inability to regulate pulse and blood pressure. which can last for years.

Even at the low end of those estimates, the large number of omicron infections this year would add to the number of covid cases for a long time to come. “That’s exactly what we found in the UK,” said Claire Steves, a professor of aging and health at King’s College London and author of the Lancet study, which found that patients were 24% to 50% less likely to develop prolonged covid during the omicron wave than during the delta wave. “Although the risk of long-term covid is lower, because so many people have contracted omicron, the absolute numbers with long-term covid have increased,” Steves said.

A recent study Analyzing a database of patients from the Veterans Health Administration, it was found that reinfections dramatically increased the risk of serious health problems, even in people with mild symptoms. The study of more than 5.4 million VA patients, including more than 560,000 women, found that people reinfected with Covid were twice as likely to die or have a heart attack than people infected just once. And they were much more likely to experience health problems of all kinds from the age of six months, including problems with the lungs, kidneys and digestive system.

“We’re not saying a second infection feels worse; we say it increases your risk,” said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of the research and education service at the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

The researchers say the study, published online but not yet peer-reviewed, should be interpreted with caution. Some noted that VA patients have unique characteristics and tend to be older men with high rates of chronic conditions that increase the risks of prolonged covid. They cautioned that the study findings cannot be extrapolated to the general population, which is younger and healthier in general.

“We need to validate these findings with other studies,” said Dr. Harlan Krumholz, director of the Center for Research and Outcomes Evaluation at Yale New Haven Hospital. Still, he added, the VA study has some “disturbing implications.”

with an estimate 82% of Americans having been infected at least once with the coronavirus in mid-July, most new cases are now reinfections, said Justin Lessler, a professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Of course, people’s risk of reinfection depends not only on their immune systems, but also on the precautions they take, such as wearing a mask, getting booster shots, and avoiding crowds.

New Jersey beauty salon owner Tee Hundley, 43, has had Covid three times, twice before vaccines were widely available and again this summer, after she was fully vaccinated. She is still suffering the consequences.

After her second infection, she returned to work as a cosmetologist at her Jersey City beauty salon, but battled illness and shortness of breath for the next eight months, often feeling like she was “breathing through a straw.”

She was exhausted and sometimes had a hard time finding the words. While she was plucking a client’s eyebrows, she “literally forgot which eyebrow she was plucking,” Hundley said. “My brain was so slow.”

When he contracted an advanced infection in July, his symptoms were brief and milder: cough, runny nose and fatigue. But the tightness in her chest remains.

“I feel like that’s something that will always be left over,” said Hundley, who warns friends with Covid not to push themselves too hard. “You may not feel terrible, but inside your body there is a war.”

Although each subvariant of omicron has different mutations, they are similar enough that people infected with one, such as BA.2, have relatively good protection against newer versions of omicron, such as BA.5. People with earlier variant disease are much more vulnerable to BA.5.

various studies I have found that vaccination reduces the risk long covid. But the extent of that protection varies by study, from as little as a 15% reduction at risk to more than 50% decrease. A to study published in July found that the risk of prolonged covid decreased with each dose people received.

For now, the only sure way to prevent covid for a long time is to avoid getting sick. That is not an easy task as the virus mutates and Americans have stopped wearing masks in public places. Current vaccines are great at preventing serious illness, but they don’t prevent the virus from passing from one person to another. Scientists are working on next-generation vaccines: “variant-proof” shots that would work on any version of the virus, as well as nasal sprays that could actually prevent the spread. If they are successful, that could dramatically curb new cases of prolonged covid.

“We need vaccines that reduce transmission,” Al-Aly said. “We need you yesterday.”

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces detailed journalism on health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the top three operating programs in KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.

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