It is time to start solving the mystery of the “long COVID”, urged the WHO official responsible for finding an answer to a scourge which seems to inflict, without rhyme or reason, millions of patients with debilitating pathologies.
One year after the start of the pandemic and more than 2.1 million deaths, attention is currently focused on vaccination campaigns and variants.
Yet the “long COVID” deserves the urgent attention of the scientific community just as much, explains Janet Diaz, head of the clinical team in charge of the response to COVID-19 in an AFP interview, just in front of the headquarters of the WHO in Geneva, health precautions oblige.
She pleads for a unified global effort to try to find answers when “we still don’t really know what long COVID is.”
If a few studies are starting to lift a corner of the veil, we still do not really know why some patients with COVID-19 then display symptoms such as extreme fatigue, breathing difficulties or neurological and cardiac disorders which are sometimes very severe for months. severe.
“There is still a lot to learn but I have confidence in the mobilization of scientific communication”, reassures the Dre Diaz.
A sign of this trial and error, the “long COVID” does not yet have a real name.
The World Health Organization talks about post-COVID-19 syndrome called “long-lasting COVID-19”, in a recent document on its new recommendations. Long COVID is the most commonly used expression and we also sometimes speak of long term COVID.
Draw the contours
The WHO is organizing on February 9 the first virtual seminar devoted to long COVID and which will bring together clinicians, researchers and experts to find a definition of the disease, give it a formal name and harmonize the methods to study it.
“It is a pathology that needs to be better described, of which we need to know how many people are affected, of which we need to better understand the cause so that we can improve prevention, management and the ways of treating it” , underlines the 48-year-old American emergency physician.
Available studies show that around 10% of patients have symptoms within a month of being infected, but it is not yet clear how long these symptoms may persist.
What is disconcerting with the long COVID is that the profile of the patients who suffer from it does not overlap those with the most vulnerable profiles: the elderly and those afflicted with aggravating factors.
It hits people who have been sick with COVID to varying degrees, “and also includes younger people,” including children, says Janet Diaz.
This is proof that not only is COVID not a simple flu as deniers of the pandemic have been able to claim, but it is also an argument against those who advocate the isolation of only fragile people as a response to the pandemic.
The most common symptoms seem to be fatigue, but there are many: exhaustion after physical exertion or discomfort, difficulty thinking clearly, shortness of breath, or heart palpitations and neurological problems.
“What we don’t understand is how all these things are linked. Why would anyone have this and another that? “Asks the doctor, stressing that researchers will have to understand the inner mechanisms of the disease that cause these symptoms.
“Is it due to the virus? To the immune response? If we knew more we could start to identify certain interventions to reduce symptoms, ”she stresses, noting“ that a huge amount ”of research was underway.
The impetus was given by the patients themselves. Tired of facing doubts and ignorance, they came together to assert their rights to a response and care.
“It was a phenomenal movement”, recognizes the doctor, who took charge of this file in October at the WHO.
” To keep hope “
The February 9 seminar will be the first in a series.
“Right now we probably have enough data (describing the long COVID) to start putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” she said.
In addition to a precise definition and a name, the seminar should also make it possible to agree on the standards for collecting surveillance data from patients in order to start finding the means to treat.
The donors will be there because the money will have to be found quickly.
For those who suffer from long COVID, who sometimes feel misunderstood, Janet Diaz has a message: “keep hope”.
“People sometimes have symptoms for a very long time, but we know they get better. It might take a long time, but they heal, ”she said before launching,“ We are with you ”.