Covid-19 has only been in our lives for a little more than a year, which is still pretty early on in the world of epidemiology. Diseases can be studied for years before patterns emerge and treatments are implemented but here we are with vaccines already circulating, and increasing data coming out almost daily. One of the more interesting pieces of information that has come to light involves the difference between how the novel coronavirus is treating men versus women when it comes to long-term effects.
What is “long-hauler” syndrome?
As if struggling through Covid-19 and surviving isn’t tough enough, that’s only the beginning for many victims of this pandemic. Because of the urgency in finding treatments to prevent a higher death toll, symptoms have been aggressively tracked in patients recovering from this infectious disease. The results so far have been astounding in that while some patients are taking weeks to recover, others are still suffering after many months. Those who fall into that extended recovery period have become known as long-haulers, and the range of health issues that won’t go away has been termed “long-hauler syndrome.”
The number of patients who recover only to become long-haulers has reached 10%. That’s a large percentage of the population when you consider some areas of the country are currently seeing close to a 30% positivity rate among those tested. That’s even with the vaccines being administered. For Oklahoma, that currently means that 27 people each day will end up with long-hauler syndrome.
The long-hauler symptoms being tracked so far include:
- Ongoing, debilitating fatigue
- Body aches
- Joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of taste and smell
- Difficulty sleeping
- Brain fog
Is Covid-19 really singling out women?
The Lily reports that when a neuroscientist and neurologist, Dona Kim Murphey, ended up with numerous symptoms after recovering from Covid-19, she began to spark a conversation about how devastating these impairments can be. As more people began discussing their symptoms, social media groups began to form where these victims could seek an exchange of information and support.
One of the byproducts of these conversations has been that many more women appear to be suffering from long-hauler syndrome than men, and doctors are sitting up and taking note. In fact, it appears to be falling in line with research the indicates more women suffer from chronic illness than men. According to Ryan Hurt, an internist at the Mayo Clinic, 60 to 80% of long-haulers have been women. Given that women are reporting that their symptoms are often being written off by their physicians, and racial disparity plays a role in that, the number may be even higher.
There are a few other potential reasons being considered in the search for an answer to the gender disparity, including:
- Basic differences between the immune systems of men and women
- Sociological or cultural differences that make it more acceptable for women to come forward and discuss their vulnerabilities in health and seek medical care
- Women being more susceptible to anxiety may make them prime targets for chronic illnesses
While the jury is still out on making a definitive finding that long-hauler syndrome is a bigger risk to women, UCLA has started a national study to help get to the bottom of the issue.
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