A Few Things of Interest I Read This Week

By David Tuller, DrPH

Miriam Tucker on Long Covid in WebMd

The always reliable Miriam Tucker, who has frequently covered ME/CFS for Medscape and other publications, has just written a piece for WebMD called “Long COVID Mimics Other Post-Viral Conditions.” The article covers some of the similarities in symptoms between long Covid and ME/CFS and highlights advocacy efforts to ensure that research initiatives targeting long Covid also include ME/CFS. The article further explores how the emergence of long Covid has impacted how the medical world views ME/CFS.

Here’s an excerpt: 

“’This for all the world looks like ME/CFS. We think they are frighteningly similar, if not identical,’ says David M. Systrom, MD, a pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who studies people with both diagnoses…

“Systrom says he has ‘absolutely’ seen a change in attitude among fellow doctors who had been skeptical of ME/CFS as a ‘real’ illness because there’s no test for it.

“’I’m very keenly aware of a large group of health care professionals who really had not bought into the concept of ME/CFS as a real disease who have had an epiphany of sorts with long COVID and now, in a backwards way, have applied that same thinking to their very same patients with ME/CFS,’ he says.”


New York Times columnist calls for National Institute of Postviral Conditions

New York Times columnist Zeynep Tufecki’s most recent piece is called “If You’re Suffering After Being Sick With Covid, It’s Not Just In Your Head.” This lengthy, high-profile article made a forceful case for what everyone reading this blog knows—that the term long Covid includes a huge range of people suffering from pathophysiological dysfunctions and not from primary psychiatric disorders. It also analyzes why research progress has been so slow.

Moreover, it highlights ME/CFS and focuses attention squarely on the paucity of knowledge about post-viral conditions in general, calling for “a National Institute for Postviral Conditions, similar to the National Cancer Institute, to oversee and integrate research.”

Here’s an excerpt:

It wasn’t until the end of the first year of the pandemic that Congress provided $1.2 billion for the National Institutes of Health, which led to a long Covid research initiative called Recover, in February 2021. A year and a half later, there are few treatments and lengthy delays to get into the small number of long Covid clinics. Frontline medical workers don’t have the clinical guidelines they need, and some are still dismissive about the condition.

“Long Covid sufferers who caught the virus early have entered their third year with the condition. Many told me they have lost not just their health but also their jobs and health insurance. They’re running out of savings, treatment options and hope.

“To add to their misery — despite centuries of evidence that viral infections can lead later to terrible debilitating conditions — their travails are often dismissed as fantasy or as unworthy of serious concern.”


Brookings Institute estimates 2-4 million not working due to long Covid

In January, the Brookings Institute published a report about the impact of long Covid on the work force that estimated 1.6 million people were not working because of it. Last week Brookings released a follow-up account based on newly available data, and included recommendations on addressing the issue going forward.

Here’s a peek:

“This June, the Census Bureau finally added four questions about long Covid to its Household Pulse Survey (HPS), giving researchers a better understanding of the condition’s prevalence. This report uses the new data to assess the labor market impact and economic burden of long Covid, and finds that: 

  • Around 16 million working-age Americans (those aged 18 to 65) have long Covid today. 
  • Of those, 2 to 4 million are out of work due to long Covid. 
  • The annual cost of those lost wages alone is around $170 billion a year (and potentially as high as $230 billion). 

“These impacts stand to worsen over time if the U.S. does not take the necessary policy actions. With that in mind, the final section of this report identifies five critical interventions to mitigate both the economic costs and household financial impact of long Covid.” 

The article received a lot of media attention but also some pushback about its methodology. Whatever the actual numbers, however, it cannot be disputed that long Covid is having, and will continue to have, a major impact on the employment market.