This is a weekly Q and A column written by Dr. Lydia S. Segal in conjunction with Chaffee County Public Health. This column is focused on questions readers have about COVID-19 news and sciences. As Segal points out, ‘Everything I write today is valid for today. COVID-19 news and science are rapidly evolving, assume updates will be made.”
By now, millions of people in the USA have had COV ID-19. Colorado reports about 425,000 cases and Chaffee County just under 1,000. This figure does not count the Department of Corrections inmates. Based on population survey testing in the spring of 2020 in southern California, there is likely another ten to twenty percent of people who have had asymptomatic cases but never been tested.
QUESTION: I had COVID-19, what happens next?
ANSWER: Most people recover from their COVID-19 illness in about two weeks. It is estimated that between ten and fifteen percent of people who get COVID-19 have persistent symptoms. A number of terms are used to describe people with ongoing symptoms: long haulers, long COVID, or post COVID-19 syndrome. Whether one develops ongoing symptoms appears to be independent of the severity of the initial COVID-19 illness. It also does not seem to be related to age, sex, or other pre-existing medical conditions.
QUESTION: What are the “Long COVID” symptoms and what are the treatments?
ANSWER: The most frequent symptoms people experience are fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, “brain fog”, loss of taste and smell, and feelings of depression and anxiety. There is no magic bullet for the symptoms. A gradual return to activity and exercise is suggested. An example might be to do ten minutes of slow walking three times a day instead of 30 minutes at once. If the depression and or anxiety is severe, medication may be recommended.
QUESTION: Does the degree of severity of my COVID-19 symptoms indicate the likelihood that I will get “Long COVID”? Does my age make a difference?
ANSWER: There is no correlation between the degree of symptoms one experiences during their COVID illness and the likelihood they will get “Long COVID”. In fact, it is estimated that about 25 percent of people with “Long COVID” were asymptomatic but tested positive. Also, age is not a predictor.
QUESTION: How long does “Long COVID” last?
ANSWER: This is still an unknown. There are a variety of patterns over time people experience. Some people have symptoms that last a month or two after their initial diagnosis of COVID-19 and some have either intermittent or persistent symptoms that have to date lasted eleven months.
QUESTION: I had COVID-19, should I still get a vaccine?
ANSWER: Yes, a vaccine is highly recommended by the CDC and other infectious disease society experts. It turns out that the immunity one develops after a case of COVID-19 is not as strong or as durable as the immunity one develops after vaccination. Studies in the last month seem to show that only one vaccine dose instead of the current two vaccine series may be necessary to produce a robust immune response in those who had COVID-19 previously. The CDC is reviewing whether to change the current two vaccine series policy into a one vaccine policy.
QUESTION: Can I get a different variant?
ANSWER: Yes, it is possible to be reinfected by a variant, though the current number of re-infections in otherwise healthy non-immunocompromised people is minuscule worldwide. One of the earliest cases of re-infection was documented in a male from Hong Kong who had the virus in the spring. He totally got better and in the summer flew to Spain. On return home, he got sick and was retested. Because genetic sequencing had been done when he had his first episode, they tested him again and his new COVID-19 turned out to be a different strain.
QUESTION: Am I transmissible after recovering from COVID-19?
ANSWER: This is a good question. In all likelihood, you are not transmissible after you have fully recovered. However, this does not mean current mitigation measures including masking, hand washing, and social distancing can be stopped as we still don’t know enough about possible low levels of virus transmission.
For more information about COVID-19 and the vaccines, eligibility and appointments, see the links below. Pharmacies will be getting small shipments of vaccines in the near future. Information will be posted in this newspaper and on the county public health web pages.
Buena Vista resources for vaccines: Buena Vista Drug and Valley-Wide Health
By Lydia S, Segal, MD, MPH
Dr. Segal is a board-certified family physician who is attempting to retire. She holds a Masters in Public Health and co-teaches with members of the Pelvic Physical Therapy staff at HRRMC classes on men’s and women’s pelvic health. In her former life, she was a general assignment reporter. In her spare time she hikes, skis and cooks.