Now that COVID 19 has been rocketing around the globe for over 18 months, we are starting to be able to study a new phenomenon of the virus: Long COVID aka Post-Acute COVID Syndrome (PACS). Long COVID is a constellation of symptoms that remain for more than 30 days after testing positive, oftentimes taking 4-5 months (or longer) to start to improve. These symptoms are commonly fatigue, brain fog, sleep difficulties, joint and muscle pains, sore throat, headache, fever, GI issues, and skin rashes. So far, PACS doesn’t appear to correspond to the severity of the COVID infection with even asymptomatic COVID patients diagnosed.
Reactivation of Other Infections – Epstein-Barr (EBV)
Scientists have begun to wonder if long covid isn’t unique, but actually reactivated EBV. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is the virus that causes mono and is estimated to have infected 95% of adults at least once in their life.
Epstein-Barr Virus has been long known to go dormant after initial infection and reactivate when the immune system is “distracted” with other stressors and illnesses. EBV has also been linked to Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, and even some cancers.
Symptoms of reactivated EBV are just as vague, and almost identical to, long COVID: fatigue, brain fog, sleep disturbances, joint and muscle pains, sore throat, headaches, fever, GI issues, and skin rashes.
Patients with EBV stay in ICU Longer
Various retrospective studies have shown that between 66-95% of COVID ICU patients (dependent on geographical location) tested positive for reactivated EBV as well with one French study showing that patients with reactivated EBV had an average 15-day ICU stay vs 8-day ICU stay without EBV co-infection.
COVID and Lyme
Symptoms of Long COVID and chronic Lyme can often overlap as well. The CDC reports a decrease in Lyme diagnoses; however, it may be artificially low due to telehealth appointments and missing tell-tale symptoms of Lyme such as the bullseye rash (though only 50% of patients get a rash), swelling of the joints, and heart rhythm abnormalities. There is concern that Lyme patients, since they are chronically inflamed, are at a higher risk of complications due to COVID as well as many Lyme patients also have reactivated EBV. The presence of the reactivated EBV and other immune system strain may translate into more Lyme patients developing Long COVID, though this has yet to be studied.
How Naturopathic Medicine Can Help
I have effectively helped patients with chronic infections such as EBV, Lyme, and even mold using natural and conventional therapies. Choices include antiviral, immune modulating, and anti-inflammatory herbs & medications, replacing various nutrients, and even using ozone therapies. Ozone historically is quite effective at treating viruses, and may have applications in long COVID as well, though this needs more study. Ultimately, recovering from chronic infections involves evaluating and balancing multiple body systems, including optimizing digestive, hormonal, and cellular health.