The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the first guidance for health providers on how to treat patients with “long” COVID-19 infections, defined as those experiencing symptoms of the virus at least 4 weeks after a confirmed acute infection.
The term “Post-COVID Conditions” is an umbrella term for the wide range of physical and mental health consequences experienced by some patients that are present four or more weeks after SARS-CoV-2 infection, including by patients who had an initial mild or asymptomatic acute infection.
Many post-COVID conditions can be diagnosed clinically based on history and findings on physical examination.
Others might require directed diagnostic testing with the understanding that such clinical assessments may be uninformative and that potential harms could arise from excessive testing such as the increased risk for incidental findings, anxiety about abnormal results that do not have clinical significance, imaging-related radiation exposure, and cost.
For most patients with possible post-COVID conditions, healthcare professionals might choose a conservative diagnostic approach in the first 4 to 12 weeks following SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The CDC said primary care providers are most well-suited for handling these patients and that patients with post–COVID-19 conditions may share some symptoms that occur in patients who experience chronic fatigue syndrome, post-treatment Lyme disease, and mast cell activation syndrome.
People with post-COVID conditions should continue to follow COVID-19 prevention measures, including wearing a mask when and where indicated, maintaining the appropriate physical distance from people who are not from their household, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces, washing hands, and when vaccinated following the general recommendations for vaccinated people.
Understanding of post-COVID conditions remains incomplete and guidance for healthcare professionals will likely change over time as the evidence evolves.
Dr. Melvin Sanicas (@Vaccinologist) is a physician-scientist specializing in vaccines, infectious diseases, and global health.