HEALTH

The long arm of long COVID in Utah

Jun 27, 2024, 8:00 PM | Updated: Jun 28, 2024, 8:04 am

a sick woman is pictured, long covid affects millions of americans...

Long COVID happens to all age groups and genders — no one is excluded. But there are certain groups who seem to be more susceptible.(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — We haven’t talked about long COVID in a long time. But there are millions of Americans still suffering. And here in Utah, there aren’t exceptions for people having long COVID.

“Six-point-eight percent of adults in the United States have long COVID,” said Dr. Melanie Hoppers, a practicing physician, board certified in internal medicine and pediatrics with the Bateman Horne Center in Salt Lake City. “That’s 17 million adults. In Salt Lake City, 10,000 adults have long COVID, and that’s rounded down.”

Children suffer with long COVID, too.

“Five-point-eight million children in America have long COVID, which extrapolates down to about 2,000 in Salt Lake City,” Hoppers explained.

From loss of smell to immobility

Some who are dealing with long COVID still haven’t gotten their sense of smell back. At the other end of the spectrum are patients who are too exhausted to get out of bed ever since contracting the virus.

“There is a new definition for long COVID from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine,” Hoppers said. “If you have loss of the sense of smell, that’s considered long COVID. Fifty percent of people with long COVID meet the definition for myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. That disease has been around for a long time. It’s a post-viral illness.”

They know a lot about chronic fatigue syndrome at the Bateman Horne Center.

They’ve been treating it for 25 years. It’s characterized by loss of function and fatigue that does not get better with rest.

“Patients sometimes experience post-exertional malaise,” Hoppers said, “so when they try to exert themselves, their body does not create energy. People who suffer with this feel so depleted after they try to exert themselves that they may feel like they have the flu.”

Who gets long COVID?

Long COVID happens to all age groups and genders. No one is excluded. But certain groups seem to be more susceptible.

“If you are female, older, have certain comorbidities, if your BMI is elevated — those are things that predispose you to long COVID,” Hoppers said.

The doctor has seen patients who believe they contracted long COVID from the vaccine alone.

“I would say in my practice, about 2% of the people feel like they did not have any other triggering event than the vaccine.”

She explained that you can’t know with 100% accuracy whether or not you’ve had the virus. You may have had it and not been aware.

“A trial I looked at today showed that the vaccine reduces the incidence of long COVID by as high as 52%,” she added.

How this doctor treats long COVID in Utah

There are things you can do.

“People with long COVID have problems with sleep,” Hoppers described. “They’ll say, ‘I feel wired but tired. I’m exhausted, but I cannot sleep.’ You can do something for their sleep, and that will help.”

There is another comorbidity that physicians regularly see with long COVID called POTS.

POTS stands for Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and refers to the condition where a person has heart racing or dizziness when they stand up.

“There are medicines that will treat the POTS, and If you treat their POTS, they will feel better,” Hoppers said.

It remains a question whether long COVID is some remnant of the virus remaining in the body or related to some damage the virus did to the body when it was present.

“We don’t really know the answer to that,” Hoppers said. “There are different ideas as to what’s going on. One of them is that we have [a] virus somewhere in a tissue that hasn’t been cleared. Another is the damage, like in POTS.”

Hoppers said there have been trials, like using Paxlovid for long COVID.

“We use it to treat acute COVID infections,” she said. “Those trials weren’t too successful, unfortunately.”

Can you still get long COVID?

Yes. Just because you’ve not experienced symptoms of long COVID before doesn’t mean you’re immune.

“Repeated infection increases your risk of long COVID,” Hoppers explained. “The good thing is the variants before Omicron were more likely to cause long COVID, and of course, if you get vaccinated you decrease your risk of long C.”

Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and A Woman’s View on KSL NewsRadio. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram. 

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The long arm of long COVID in Utah