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5 things to know about long COVID and how North Texas clinics treat the syndrome

Even as the delta variant fuels a surge in coronavirus cases in North Texas, some COVID-19 survivors are experiencing a condition known as “long COVID.” Here are five things to know about the syndrome and the North Texas clinics that have emerged to support these patients.

The term “long COVID” describes lingering symptoms experienced by people recovering from COVID-19. These symptoms can include heart and lung issues, fatigue, brain fog, headache, muscle pain and sleep problems. The syndrome isn’t well understood, but according to The New York Times, studies indicate 10% to 30% of adults who are infected may experience long COVID, including people who experienced only mild illness or no symptoms. The Times has also reported that the risk of developing long COVID for vaccinated people who get infected after vaccination hasn’t been studied.

UT Southwestern’s program and another post-recovery clinic with JPS Health Network in Fort Worth were among the first of their kind in North Texas to serve COVID-19 survivors with long-term symptoms, including heart and lung problems, fatigue, brain fog, neurological effects and mental health issues, according to reporting by Alejandra Canales, a science reporter at The Dallas Morning News. Meanwhile, Parkland Hospital’s COVID recovery clinic generally handles internal referrals from its hospital system. These clinics are sometimes known as “long COVID” clinics.

The program at UT Southwestern was originally set up to follow up with patients who were leaving the ICU. The clinic at JPS offers follow-up care for patients who have been hospitalized but not placed in intensive care. Early in the pandemic, doctors suspected that people who had been severely ill or on ventilators might experience prolonged symptoms. Following these patients and their symptoms has helped UT Southwestern develop a program with specialists in physical therapy, occupational therapy, cognitive therapy and neuropsychology, Dr. Juan Cabrera, head of the Frisco branch of UT Southwestern’s recovery clinic, told The News’ Canales.

Some research suggests that even people who were not initially hospitalized for COVID can still have long COVID symptoms, The News’ Canales reported. Scientists at the University of Arizona found that nearly 70% of people in their study who had not previously been hospitalized had lingering symptoms at least 30 days following their positive COVID diagnosis. Primary care doctors need to be aware of the prevalence of long COVID in mild or asymptomatic cases when evaluating their patients, said Leslie Farland, one of the authors of that study and an assistant professor in the university’s department of epidemiology and biostatistics.

In a guest essay for The New York Times, Dr. Adam Gaffney of the Harvard Medical School and Dr. Zackary Berger of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine wrote that treatment for long COVID may require a multidisciplinary approach. If “we understand this form of long Covid as a complex chronic illness, a biopharmaceutical solution is unlikely, and there may be no single cure,” they wrote. “Rather, over time, a compassionate, humanistic team of professionals from multiple disciplines, including rehabilitation, can validate patients’ experiences and collaborate with them to improve their health in incremental yet significant ways.”

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