Boise jewelry artist Mike Rogers managed to get through several waves of the COVID-19 outbreak without getting sick — until mid-June, when an omicron variant caught him.
Six weeks after contracting the coronavirus, Rogers is not back to normal. His brain feels as if it is covered with a plastic wrap, as it is compressed and hit by electric currents.
Rogers is now among the ranks of Idahoans who have survived coronavirus infection but are experiencing health issues after COVID.
There is no official data on the number of Idaho residents who recover from COVID-19 only to experience “long COVID” for weeks or months. But new data obtained by Idaho Capital Sun suggests that it is not uncommon.
What does “long COVID” mean?
Studies identified A range of health problems after COVID.
There is a hard-to-define “long-term” condition that comes with a host of symptoms: irregular heartbeats, breathing problems, fatigue, “brain fog,” altered senses and more.
For patients who are hospitalized by COVID-19 or on life support machines, post-COVID recovery can mean months of physical therapy, rehabilitation, and ongoing medical care.
Some COVID-19 patients will later develop life-altering health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart failure or stroke.
Ziyad Al-Ali, senior researcher at VA St. In the March issue of the international science and technology journal Nature. Al-Ali co-authored a study that found a 40% increased risk of developing diabetes among veterans who had COVID-19 compared to those who did not.
Nature reports that the research team has previously found higher rates of cardiovascular disease and kidney disease, too.
The scale of the long-term COVID burden
How much chronic disease legacy will COVID-19 leave in Idaho?
The Sun asked Idaho’s largest health insurers — Idaho Medicaid and Blue Cross of Idaho — for data that might provide insight into the extent of Idaho’s “long COVID.”
Last year, as it became clear that COVID-19 was casting a long shadow on health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved a new diagnostic code for doctors to use in medical claims, starting in October.
The Sun asked the Idaho Department of Health and Care how many people enrolled in Idaho Medicaid have received this diagnosis.
State claims data showed 1,401 people in Idaho Medicaid with the diagnosis as of July. At least 259 of them were previously hospitalized due to COVID-19; The rest have no hospital admission history on their Medicaid claims.
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But this is likely an underestimate of the true number of Idahoans with post-COVID health conditions.
The vast majority of Idahoans are not on Medicaid, so the claims data only reflects a small cross section of the state.
Within this cross-section, the number is limited to Medicaid recipients who received medical care for post-COVID syndrome; whose doctors included the diagnostic code in their Medicaid claim; And only for medical claims submitted since October.
Blue Cross of Idaho also told The Sun earlier this year that its claims showed a 3.7% to 5.5% increase in diabetes and cardiovascular disease since before the pandemic, although it’s unclear how much of that is the direct repercussions. for COVID-19.
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Healthcare can take ‘decades’ to stabilize
Deaths and serious illnesses are less common in the current wave of COVID-19 than last year. But according to analysts, the pandemic’s legacy of chronic disease could extend into the middle of this century.
Fitch Ratings Agency, warned last summer That “long after the acute phase of the pandemic is over,” people will need more health care for the long-term harm from COVID-19.
That would raise medical costs and insurance premiums “for decades,” Fitch said. “These costs will emerge from the necessary addition (to more clinics) to handle the ongoing treatment of chronic conditions related to the potential permanent damage from COVID-19.”
It could add pressure to an already strained health care system and staff shortage, Fitch said.
One of the newest post-COVID Idaho patients to go through this experience first hand.
Mike Rogers slept almost all day and night, every day, in the weeks following his COVID-19 illness.
“After two weeks, I was surprised that it wasn’t over,” he said. Two weeks became three weeks, then four weeks.
Rogers made an appointment with his nurse practitioner, who discovered that COVID-19 “has led to astronomical hypertension,” he said. He immediately started taking blood pressure medication.
He said it helped a little. But after about two months, he slept 11 hours or more, with naps on the sofa in his studio.
He said the strange sensation of pressure and electricity in his head did not go away.
A few weeks ago, he got a referral to a post-COVID clinic in Boise, which is run by St. Luke’s Health System. Then he got a referral to a neurologist.
The clinic is fully booked, he said, and he is still waiting for a call from the neurologist.