The World Health Organization has for the first time published the definition of “long covid” in an effort to demystify and provide clarity on aspects of the pandemic that persist well beyond the initial treatment period.
Janet Diaz, head of WHO clinical management, said during a virtual press briefing that the definition was agreed upon after global consultations with health officials.
The WHO experts define long covid as a condition that “occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, usually 3 months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.”
Diaz said some of the symptoms that are associated with the persistent condition include fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive dysfunction.
Here are five things you need to know about the long covid definition:
The WHO estimated that 10-to-20 percent of covid-19 patients experienced lingering symptoms for months following infection. These prolonged symptoms can include persistent fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog and depression.
WHO’s clinical definition differs from the CDC’s. Published in July, the CDC version said that people with long covid can begin experiencing symptoms four or more weeks after being infected.
WHO’s Diaz said covid symptoms can persist well beyond what is commonly experienced in the period commonly referred to as “post-covid”. The CDC defines “post-covid” as conditions with a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes covid-19.
To date, there is no proven treatment or rehabilitation guidance for those with persistent symptoms even as the post-viral syndrome continues to affect people’s daily functioning and capacity to work. An editorial published in The Lancet on Aug. 28 described long covid as “a modern medical challenge of the first order.”
The post-viral syndrome is greatest in people age 35 to 69, females, people living in the most deprived areas, those working in health or social care and those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability, according to WHO.
With the definition in place, WHO said it “will be able to measure the burden of this illness better, giving us a better understanding of its prevalence globally.”
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