St. John’s Researchers Study Long COVID

Prof. Alois and Dr. Lee combined image with red background

Assistant Professor Corinne I. Alois (l) and Dr. Louise Lee (r)

July 12, 2022

Hoping to unravel one of the medical mysteries of the pandemic, a pair of St. John’s University researchers studied the peculiar phenomenon of “long COVID,” a condition in which some survivors endure nagging symptoms long after the disease should have run its course. 

COVID-19 “long-haulers,” as they are known, can experience chest and abdominal pain, headaches, cognitive impairment, skin rashes, and other conditions a month or more after infection, say Assistant Professor Corinne I. Alois and Associate Professor Clinical Health Professions Louise Lee, Ed.D., in the May/June issue of the medical journal Clinical Advisor.  Both St. John’s professors, from the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, are also practicing physician assistants.

In their peer-reviewed article “Long COVID: Understanding the Many Faces of a Medical Mystery,”  Prof. Alois and Dr. Lee say data suggest that anywhere from 10–53 percent of domestic COVID patients could be considered long-haulers, with symptoms continuing four weeks or longer after infection. 

Such a wide range of potential cases is due largely to the ambiguity of the disease itself.

“There’s not much data out there,” Dr. Lee said. “There are top-notch hospital systems studying long COVID and they are finding out new things every day. In the meantime, it’s been really frustrating for health care providers.”   

According to the Mayo Clinic, conventional COVID patients typically experience symptoms for one to two weeks after infection. But from almost the beginning of the pandemic, researchers have been vexed by a segment of patients whose symptoms last months or whose symptoms seem to recur. That riddle is what led Prof. Alois and Dr. Lee, contributors to Clinical Advisor, to study the data on long COVID. 

“A wide range of patients don’t attribute the continuation of the symptoms to COVID because the symptoms themselves are so vague,” Prof. Alois explained. “Also, people who don’t believe in long COVID may attribute the symptoms to other diseases.”

In their review of existing studies, Prof. Alois and Dr. Lee noted few common markers exist among long COVID patients.     

“It could be affecting so many people,” Prof. Alois said. “There really aren’t any common risk factors such as a link between smoking and lung cancer or a history of breast cancer in the family. Hopefully, science can discover one.” 

Some of the literature does suggest:

  • Extended fatigue, anxiety, and a lack of mental clarity are some of the primary symptoms of long COVID.
  • Its impact is felt in nearly every bodily system and long COVID patients often experience enhanced bodily pain.
  • A patient’s likelihood of developing long COVID does not seem to be related to the severity of the initial infection. 
  • More research is needed to determine if those who are fully vaccinated have less risk of developing long COVID.  

Prof. Alois and Dr. Lee also point to mental health issues presented by long COVID, acknowledging patients often show signs of anxiety, depression, and other conditions.

“Some patients might have had a mild case of COVID, tested negative, and now they have issues, and they don’t even know where the issues are coming from,” Dr. Lee said. “It’s frustrating because they seemed to be healthy again and now, they’re not.”

“There is frustration in your inability to go back to the state you were in before you got sick,” Prof. Alois added. “But it’s more than just frustration; there is also stress and burnout. We are seeing so many more mental health issues now.”