St. Luke’s Provides Innovative Treatment for COVID ‘Long Haulers’

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A St. Luke’s University Health Network yard sign is displayed along Delaware Avenue in Fountain Hill during the first phase of the coronavrius pandemic in April 2020. Over the past year, medical researchers and scientists have discovered that as many as one in four COVID-19 patients develops persistent post-COVID symptoms. The Lehigh Valley-based health network has just launched a recovery program dedicated to treating these patients, who are known as ‘long haulers.’ (FILE PHOTO)

 

 

 

St. Luke’s University Health Network announced its development of a new COVID-19 Recovery Clinic Thursday. The innovative program is dedicated to treating post-COVID patients with lingering symptoms who are colloquially known as COVID “long haulers.”

“We know that they are real. It is not something that is just in their mind,” said Jeffrey Jahre, MD, St. Luke’s Vice President of Medical & Academic Affairs and Section Chief Emeritus of Infectious Diseases, of the long-lasting symptoms that are characteristic of what is often referred to as “long COVID” or Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID (PASC).

Jahre said PASC is defined as a case of COVID-19 with “persistent symptoms beyond four weeks of onset.” The symptoms may include loss of taste and/or smell, extreme fatigue, mood disturbance, irregular heartbeat, blood clots and other cardiac complications, joint pain, difficulty sleeping, depression, anxiety and “brain fog.”

“That’s one of the more elusive symptoms that we’re really trying to help patients with,” said St. Luke’s Senior Regional Medical Director Dennis McGorry, MD, who is spearheading the new recovery program which incorporates the medical specialists’ expertise into the development of personalized treatment plans.

“Many people recovering from COVID continue to have long-lasting symptoms that impact their day-to-day lives. St. Luke’s is committed to helping these patients get access to the most appropriate care so they can find relief,” McGorry said.

Up to one in four people who have had COVID-19 are long-haulers, and with 32 million Americans having tested positive for the virus over the past year, the number of people currently battling the debilitating symptoms of long COVID is “enormous,” Jahre said.

Most typical COVID cases resolve in four weeks, he explained. But for some people the symptoms don’t go away on their own.

Patients with symptoms that last more than four weeks are advised to go to their primary care doctor, who will be able to evaluate them and may refer them to St. Luke’s COVID Recovery Clinic for further treatment by appropriate medical specialists, McGorry said.

Depending on a patient’s specific symptoms and their severity, treatment of PASC may include cognitive and memory retraining, physical and occupational therapy, medication and group therapy for behavioral health issues and other interventions to address neurologic, pulmonary and cardiac problems.

While some COVID after-effects may be mild, McGorry said, “the key is not missing something serious like a pulmonary embolism or cardiomyopathy (heart muscle issue) in these patients.” In a case where a patient’s “brain fog” is severe, he said “we may order an MRI to find out why.”

McGorry noted during a news conference about the new program that St. Luke’s also has a COVID long-hauler support group which currently holds regular meetings virtually.

One of the most distressing facts of life for people with PASC is that their lives are on hold while they battle its symptoms. For a younger person with a family to tend to who’s already missed a substantial amount of work due to their illness, this can be particularly frustrating because they may not feel they have adequate time to recover, he explained.

“We want patients to get the care and relief they need and deserve,” McGorry stressed.

Individuals who believe they may have “long COVID” or PASC should make an appointment with their primary care physician or call 1-866-STLUKES (785-8537), option 7, for more information.

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