As the pandemic evolves, vaccines have significantly reduced the severity of COVID-19, yet emerging research suggests that even mild cases of the virus may carry long-term consequences. Multiple studies indicate a rise in the risk of long COVID with each new infection, dispelling the notion that repeated encounters with the virus are inconsequential.
While the initial risk of long COVID may be relatively low, particularly for those vaccinated and younger individuals, worrisome signs suggest that it may not remain so. Physician Rambod Rouhbakhsh warns that each subsequent infection increases the risk of chronic health issues, challenging the belief that repeated encounters with the virus are mild.
Long COVID Risk Factors
Long COVID, defined as a multisystem disease with potentially lifelong consequences, affects various organ systems. The Lancet shared an overview titled ‘Long COVID: 3 years in’ which shared that at least 65 million people globally suffer from long COVID.
To understand the risk of long COVID in case of multiple infections, epidemiologist Benjamin Bowe led a study which followed US veterans with SARS-CoV-2 for two years. The study indicated that reinfection increases the risk of long COVID across multiple organ systems, emphasising the cumulative nature of this condition.
Similar trends are observed in a broader study across 10 Canadian provinces, adding to the growing evidence of the association between COVID-19 reinfection and long-term symptoms. While these findings are concerning, researchers note that the studies demonstrating this increase in risk are still limited in number and generalisability.
Complications Of Multiple COVID Infections
The virus's impact on our immune systems is a crucial factor, depleting memory T cells critical for long-term immunity, the researchers explained. They added that regardless of the severity of the initial infection, COVID-19 may contribute to more severe and frequent outbreaks of other diseases.
As we approach the holiday season, rising COVID infections are evident in wastewater testing across various countries. The virus's ability to mutate rapidly poses a challenge, with the emergence of the new JN.1 strain, or Pirola, showing signs of reduced protection from past vaccines and infections.
In response to the potential cumulative nature of long COVID, a collective concern is expressed by clinicians, scientists, disability advocates, and journalists, urging increased support for individuals facing this condition. As the pandemic continues to unfold, all of us need to understand the cumulative risks associated with long COVID, and the importance of preventive measures, public health strategies and research efforts.