The Myth — and Grift — of Long COVID
And, while acute COVID-19 is still spinning off variants and Health and Human Services (HHS) has just extended the public health emergency, people are just plumb tired of hearing about it. But moving in to fill the clickbait quota is the so-called “long COVID” or “long-haul COVID.”
“Do I have Long COVID? As many as 23 million Americans want to know, as more than 200 symptoms emerge.” So begins a recent article in Fortune magazine. “It gets stranger,” the piece continues. “Among the 200-plus symptoms identified so far are ear numbness, a sensation of ‘brain on fire,’ erectile dysfunction, irregular menstrual periods, constipation, peeling skin, and double vision.” This is according to a study published a year ago in the British medical journal the Lancet, widely considered the world’s most prestigious medical journal. And, oh yes, “The study identified symptoms involving 10 major organ systems—and the body only has 11.”
If you haven’t recently suffered at least a dozen of these symptoms, it’s bad news for you. You’re dead.
We all know the expression “If it sounds too good to be true ….” Why is there no corollary that says, “If it sounds too bad …”? Do you have to be a genius’ genius, say Albert Einstein level, to recognize that over 200 symptoms in almost all major organ systems have no relationship, that this is just a constellation of symptoms — which has now grown so large that it cannot possibly count as a constellation anymore? It’s essentially anything bad.
The “search for causes and cures” for “long COVID” will never end, any more than we will ever find Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.
Oh, and this is really important. Official definitions aside, in order to have “long COVID,” there’s absolutely no need to ever have had acute COVID.
The CDC says, “[Long COVID] conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that people experience after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.” And the prestigious Mayo Clinic defines long COVID as a set of symptoms stemming from COVID that persist for “more than four weeks” after diagnosis. The WHO definition is a bit looser, saying that it “occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed” COVID infection.
Obviously, some people who contract COVID do have long-term symptoms, as with the flu or other diseases that usually resolve fairly quickly but sometimes have lingering problems.
Yet, as I noted in my first “long COVID” article in The American Spectator last September:
The largest study so far of “long-haulers,” published by researchers at University College London in July, comprised nearly 4,000 subjects from over 56 countries. Participants were over the age of 18 and suffered from symptoms lasting at least 28 days. The researchers acknowledged merely in passing that in the study a mere 27% or 1020 of these “COVID long-haulers” had evidence of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. That’s whether antigen [during infection] or antibody [post-infection]. The only connection to COVID was the attestation of the sufferers. They “felt” they had COVID, regardless of evidence.
So about three-fourths of the participants don’t fit any of the above definitions. Yet that is the study that Fortune cites.
An August 2021 study of 3,151 British “long haulers” in Pragmatic and Observational Research found that only 17.2 percent were “test-confirmed positive.” A further 12 percent said they were told they had acute COVID, but no test was performed. And over 70 percent admitted it was merely self-diagnosis. An influential and scary article in the Atlantic reported some two-thirds of “long-hauler” patients had negative coronavirus antibody tests without making the obvious inference. An advocacy group study released in May 2020 by the curiously named “Patient-Led Research Collaborative” found that only “[a]bout a quarter of respondents (23.1%) tested positive for COVID-19” but “[i]n our analysis, we included all responses regardless of testing status.”
And the game continues. No, not just with the popular clickbait media. With the vaunted “published, peer-reviewed” medical journals that have names most people don’t even understand, like Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. A May 2022 issue reports on a selected cohort of 100 “non-hospitalized COVID-19 ‘long haulers.’” Yet these included “50 laboratory-negative” people. Again, they didn’t just not test positive but rather had tested negative. But this time it was made clear they were included because they were negative!
They didn’t read the WHO, CDC, Mayo Clinic, etc., definitions?
Clearly they had. And rejected them. You see, “it has been advocated that a positive test for COVID-19 should not be a perquisite for diagnosis” (emphasis mine). As I noted in my original article, like so many faux diseases before it, such as the CDC-recognized “myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS),” so-called “long COVID” has been co-opted by advocacy groups whose main purpose is to engage in what’s called “beating up the numbers.” That is, making them seem greater. This has been going on since AIDS, when beginning around 1984 AIDS was converted from a disease overwhelmingly afflicting male homosexuals and intravenous drug abusers to “An Equal Opportunity Destroyer.”
The difference between AIDS and “long COVID” is that, at the time, you could play games regarding how people contracted the disease, but the definition of AIDS in the U.S. and Europe was quite fixed and absolutely required a positive HIV test. But if we do what “long COVID” advocates want and eliminate the need for a positive COVID test, then, given that absolutely everyone not only has had some of the ever-growing list of 200-plus symptoms but probably still does, we can literally say that everyone is suffering “long COVID.” Of course, that would be going a bit far, as when I saw extrapolations of AIDS cases to a point where people claimed more Americans would die of AIDS than there were Americans. So instead, we see the numbers pumped up to something that’s just on the edge of reason. Or maybe a bit beyond. The Atlantic tells us the U.S. has “at least 56 million long-COVID patients.” Or, as it says, “one for every six Americans.” Do we really believe that?
Not incidentally, the specific reasoning of the Annals “researchers” ranged from the seemingly plausible, such as false negatives (yes, obviously there are some but apparently quite few), to the clearly woke, such as “rejection and stigma.” When you see the word “stigma,” stop right there. You’re not reading science; you’re reading agit-prop. They aren’t researchers at all but rather advocates or advocates of advocates, or whatever.
Disease advocacy groups, of which “long COVID” had at least 50 as of February of last year, have various motives. An obvious one is that more attention means more funding. Removal of stigma is not universal, but special treatment is. And indeed, in a joint statement last year, HHS and the Department of Justice ruled that “long COVID can be a disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act, thereby protecting alleged sufferers from “discrimination.” With allegedly over 200 symptoms, pretty much whatever you say your problem is can be protected. The range is broad enough to include demanding more time to take tests. Want a better chance at acing that exam? Claim to have “long COVID.” It does, however, require an “individualized assessment,” which is presumably as easy as calling up a list of alleged symptoms or, actually, just claiming virtually any symptoms.
Advocates also want to make a special exception for alleged sufferers to collect social security disability payments more quickly. As it stands, you don’t need a “long COVID” diagnosis to qualify if your symptoms are among those covered. But there’s a waiting period, and they want that shortened just for those who claim to have “long COVID.”
All that said, the Annals authors’ own data make the case that there’s no such thing as “long COVID.” Table 2 has three separate breakdowns. It kindly separates those who tested positive from those who tested negative, and then breaks them down further into neurologic and other symptoms upon first visit and then upon follow-up. And lo! — it turns out that time and again the ones who tested negative (and, even by the woke standards of the authors, are thereby more likely to never have had acute COVID) are worse off.
Table 3 shows how many subjects tried various treatments for their “long COVID.” The negatives had a slightly higher rate than the positives.
So, if nothing else, when you see an article in the popular media cite official or authoritative definitions of “long COVID” and then proceed to discuss what it may be, don’t let them mislead you into thinking they’re going by those definitions. Essentially, they’re going by whatever they think will keep you reading or by what they feel is the “right thing to do.”
But why would there be a difference between the positive and negative groups with the negatives worse off? Because those who actually have had COVID may be suffering extended symptoms from their disease. May. But those who never had COVID, but are convinced they have, are more likely to have psychological problems, and psychological problems are notoriously difficult to treat. Especially if ignored in favor of something else.
That’s why you haven’t seen terminology in this article such as “alleged sufferers.” Because if you think you’re sick, you’re sick. It’s just that, if you had negative tests for acute COVID, you almost certainly don’t have “long COVID.”
Mind, just as “long haulers” who test negative are different from those who test positive, “long haulers” generally have very little overlap with sufferers of acute COVID. While acute COVID is highly contagious and therefore virtually everyone is susceptible to contracting it (some people repeatedly), those who develop severe symptoms fit a very tight profile. Overwhelmingly they are older, with a plurality of deaths over age 80, and have several preconditions or comorbidities such as diabetes and untreated hypertension. According to the CDC, in the U.S. among acute COVID patients, non-Hispanic American blacks are slightly more likely to be diagnosed with the disease, almost three times as likely to be hospitalized, and are twice as likely to have died, compared with non-Hispanic whites.
But “long-haulers,” according to an appendix in the 2021 University College study, “belong to the middle and upper-middle income brackets, with 51.0% of participants in the USA earning more than $85,000/year and 22.5% earning more than $150,000/year.” They are overwhelmingly white and female. In fact, the demographics match pretty well to those diagnosed with the above-mentioned phantom illness, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), for which coincidentally there’s also no cure. The Veterans’ Department says: “[R]esearch suggests that women are 4X more likely to get [ME/CFS] than men. Statistics also show that people between ages 40 and 59 are most affected by the disorder.”
Mostly, as with so many other “syndromes,” these people suffer from depression. My interpretation? No, theirs. In the Annals study, the majority of the COVID-negative patients actually claimed depression as looming large among their symptoms, both upon initial visit and follow-up. Meanwhile, this being a journal of neurology, any symptom they list, such as shortness of breath, can be associated with depression and/or anxiety.
Even the mainstream media have observed the “long COVID” link to depression, as a Google search quickly shows. But they consistently put the cart before the horse. That is, they blame depression on “long COVID” rather than “long COVID” on depression. A typical headline: “How Long Haul COVID Takes a Toll on Your Mental Health.”
And, sadly, the worst thing you can do with depressives is to patronize them. You should tell them that they are suffering from depression and that it is a very real and serious disease (successful suicide has a 100 percent mortality rate), and then you should refer them to an expert who may be able to treat them.
You do not attribute their illness to something that doesn’t exist. That’s not only uncompassionate, it’s downright cruel. Yet, it’s also a great way to sell them snake oil to cure them.
But how many researchers have dared publish the clear reality? Precious few. Or at least few have succeeded; we have no idea what’s been rejected. It’s treated the same as was the case that said AIDS victims are overwhelmingly gay males and drug abusers, as the data clearly showed. I lost two jobs over that and was unemployable for two years. Likewise, did you know that monkeypox victims are 99 percent male and gay before you read it here?
A commentary last year in America’s most prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), actually launched a preemptive strike against those who believe “long COVID” to be “likely to have a non-physiological origin.” The opinion piece, titled “Confronting Our Next National Health Disaster — Long-Haul Covid,” declares the authors to be aghast that “[s]ome commentators have characterized it as a mental illness.”
In late 2020, the godfather of America’s acute COVID hysteria, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci, declared “long COVID” to be “quite real and quite extensive.” That’s the same Fauci who apparently got promoted to that position shortly after essentially kick-starting the “AIDS democratization” campaign in 1983 with an article in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), saying that there was evidence of casual transmission. This was long after it had been made clear it was a difficult-to-transmit disease of bodily fluids.
It’s also hardly insubstantial that Congress is paying bounties for discussing the will o’ the wisp, providing “$1.15 billion in funding over four years” for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support research. And if you think you’re going to get a grant by labeling it as something other than what the former head of NIH, the current acting director, Fauci, the NEJM, and the medical establishment in general has, hopefully you’re living in a state where smoking those mushrooms is legal.
Over a billion bucks is dedicated to the RECOVER program, under which, as of February, 66 hospitals and health systems had launched post-COVID clinics. So it’s a massive gravy train. There’s much money in spotting Nessie and Bigfoot, less than nothing in denying their existence. In fact, the few who have published in medical journals suggesting it’s not a real disease have been pounded.
There is precedent for this intimidation. My experience with AIDS, for example. Lost jobs, long-term unemployment, books banned.
But there’s also precedent with others and other diseases. About four years ago, Reuters ran a remarkable article called “Online activists are silencing us, scientists say,” regarding ME/CFS. It noted that researchers seeking answers to actual causes of the syndrome and bona fide treatments said they were abandoning the field because of bullying. “Of more than 20 leading research groups who were publishing treatment studies in high-quality journals 10 years ago,” one scientist said, “only one or two continue to do so.” Their sin was in positing psychological rather than organic explanations and, therefore, appropriate treatments. The campaign to have evidence-backed treatments discredited was “doing a terrible disservice to sufferers from this condition,” said another. He concluded, “Patients are the losers here.”
What Ronald E. Gots wrote of an alleged syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), in 1995 in the Journal of Toxicology holds equally true for “long COVID.” It’s “a dangerous diagnosis,” says the executive director of the Environmental Sensitivities Research Institute in Rockville, Maryland, a clearinghouse for scientific data. He continues:
[T]he diagnosis of MCS begins a downward spiral of fruitless treatments, culminating in withdrawal from society and condemning the sufferer to a life of misery and disability. This is a phenomenon in which the diagnosis is far more disabling than the symptoms.
It’s wickedly cruel! We need to really care about these people, not pretend that we do. We need to tell them they need help, that they quite possibly can be helped, but that, even if they tested positive for COVID, what they have is probably not COVID-related, and, if they tested negative, it almost certainly is not.
But don’t hold your breath waiting for an advocacy group or even the medical journal industry — and indeed it is an industry — to take that position. All the money, fame, and fortune are pointing in a different direction.