This story is part of CT Mirror Explains, an ongoing effort to distill our wide-ranging reporting into a "what you need to know" format. To dive deeper on any element of this topic, use the links in the story.
Original reporting by Jenna Carlesso and Gabby DeBenedictis. Compiled by Gabby DeBenedictis.
Medical providers and advocates in Connecticut are trying to raise awareness about long COVID as public health mandates are rolled back and people resume pre-pandemic activities.
Long COVID, also known as post-COVID syndrome, occurs in people with a confirmed or probable case of coronavirus who develop lingering symptoms that no other diagnosis can explain.
Although there is currently no cure, treatment programs have emerged with the aim of managing symptoms and helping people to recover as much as possible. And research is underway to better understand the condition and what interventions might prove effective.
Here’s what you need to know about long COVID symptoms and treatments in Connecticut:
1. Long COVID takes a variety of forms
Symptoms in adults include shortness of breath, fatigue, brain fog, headaches, cardiac and central nervous system problems, cognitive dysfunction and musculoskeletal issues. Some people have chronic pain.
The symptoms can last a minimum of four weeks but often go on longer.
Symptoms in children are similar. They include fatigue, poor physical endurance, difficulty concentrating, trouble breathing, muscle pain, chronic headaches, heart palpitations, gastrointestinal issues, sleep disorders, changes in smell or taste, and lightheadedness upon standing.
2. How many people get long COVID? Estimates vary
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in five people under 65 who have had the coronavirus experienced at least one health issue that could be deemed long COVID. For people 65 and older, that figure is higher — one in four.
Other studies have estimated that anywhere from 10% to 30% of coronavirus cases result in long COVID, while a few — including one from the Penn State College of Medicine — say more than half of people who had the disease develop the condition.
In Connecticut, providers say 5% to 30% of cases here lead to long COVID. A CDC analysis of Census data show 29.3% — nearly a third — of adult COVID survivors in Connecticut have experienced lingering symptoms.
3. Treatment for adults with long COVID is available in Connecticut
Health systems such as Trinity Health of New England, Hartford HealthCare, Yale New Haven Health and Bristol Health now have treatment initiatives.
In many programs, a patient will be assessed and then paired with doctors in a range of specialties. The programs include cardiologists, pulmonologists, neurologists and physical and speech therapists, among others. They also involve practitioners outside of traditional medicine. For example, acupuncturists have been enlisted to help patients with fatigue.
4. CT Children’s has launched a treatment program for kids with symptoms
Long COVID programs for children are similar to those for adults. At Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, for example, specialists are brought in to treat a constellation of symptoms in kids.
Connecticut Children’s had a “soft” rollout of its long COVID program six months ago. Since then, physicians have seen about 50 kids believed to have the condition, although not all turned out to have it. It is launching an expanded program in the coming weeks.
5. Yale researchers are conducting a study on long COVID
Researchers at Yale are seeking to put a more formal definition to long COVID, study the way it affects people and learn what interventions might be most effective.
The study will involve participants filling out surveys, sharing medical history and, in some cases, giving samples of blood and saliva.
Some key questions researchers are hoping to answer: Who is most susceptible? What put them at risk? What’s the underlying cause or causes? Who gets better, and who gets worse? What things are people trying that seem to make a difference?