covid-19 public health

Long COVID-19: A New Challenge to Public Health

Among the many challenges of the pandemic, the long-term health effects experienced by those who have had COVID-19 are an area of increasing focus. In an editorial published in the February 2, 2022 issue of JBJS, Deputy Editor Konstantinos N. Malizos, MD, PhD spotlights the emerging challenge of “long COVID” and its impact on patients and health-care systems. He notes that recent reports on large series of patients who had severe COVID-19-related illness indicate that 49% to 62% of the patients presented at least 1 prolonged symptom—predominantly fatigue, myalgia, and muscle weakness, followed by depression and anxiety.  

As our body of research expands, the association of COVID-19 and patients’ long-term health, including musculoskeletal health, will be further revealed. A January 2022 study published in JAMA assessed symptoms related to physical, mental, and cognitive health among patients with COVID-19 who were in the intensive care units of 11 hospitals in the Netherlands during the first COVID-19 surge. At 1 year following ICU treatment, 74% of the patients (182 of 245) reported physical symptoms, 26% (64 of 244) reported mental symptoms, and 16% (39 of 241) reported cognitive symptoms. Of particular interest to the orthopaedic community: the most frequently reported new physical problems were weakened condition, joint stiffness, joint pain, muscle weakness, and myalgia; approximately one-quarter of the patients reported joint and muscle-related symptoms. 

In his JBJS editorial, Dr. Malizos makes note of pressing concerns in the world’s response to COVID-19, including global vaccination, “a needed approach to end this pandemic.” On the issue of long COVID, he calls on orthopaedic and rehabilitation specialists “to work collaboratively to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, exploring and further elucidating how to best handle the long-lasting sequelae of COVID-19 and help survivors return to their normal productive lives.”  

He concludes, “We need to know more about the precise epidemiology of and risk factors for long-COVID syndrome as well as how novel variants of COVID-19 affect illness severity and how we might reduce an individual’s risk. JBJS is dedicated to these tasks and welcomes relevant, high-quality work to publish through the peer-review process.” 

To access the editorial, click here. 

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