Doctors focus on patients with long COVID as pandemic slows down in Wisconsin

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- While the pandemic may be slowing down in Wisconsin, some aspects of COVID-19 continue to linger, including doctors and patients dealing with 'long COVID'. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control offered new guidance recently to help people diagnose, treat and manage long COVID symptoms.

"It's something that's been going on throughout the pandemic, but certainly you're seeing a little bit more attention to that now as we have more people and are trying to learn more," says Dr. Matt Anderson, senior medical director of UW Health primary care.

Dr. Matt Anderson says the CDC has identified 25-percent of people who have had COVID-19 will end up with long COVID symptoms beyond their initial illness, lasting four weeks or longer. Some symptoms include cough, shortness of breath and fatigue.

"The frequency of which they occur is really significant," he adds.

Experts say long COVID is a significant threat for everyone, but especially for younger people who have recovered. The symptoms could range from mild to severe chronic heart, lung and kidney failure.

"The more robust studies seem to suggest about 20-percent (affected), but still that's one in five young, healthy individuals who have long-term symptoms from COVID," says Dr. Ben Weston, associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and medical director at the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

The CDC stressed there are still a number of unknowns with long COVID, but urged people to seek their primary care doctor if they do have symptoms.

"There's a lot of supportive care and options, but there's not necessarily a quick fix," Dr. Anderson adds.

Doctors say the best way to protect yourself from long COVID is to never get COVID in the first place.

"Now is really the time where we build up our protection, so in the coming weeks or the coming months, if we see a seasonal surge in COVID-19 activity like we did last year, we have high levels of protection in the community," said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer for Wisconsin Department of Health Services Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

"It's not just about hospitalizations and deaths and things like that, but there are people who are surviving or have even milder symptoms originally who are having long-term complications and quality of life impacts. Getting vaccinated protects people against those," adds Dr. Anderson.

While there are many physical symptoms of long COVID, Dr. Anderson says the CDC has also recognized mental illness like anxiety and depression as part of a list of long COVID symptoms.

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