WHO establishes clinical definition of long COVID

The first official clinical definition of so-called long COVID has been agreed upon after global consultation and released to help boost treatment for sufferers, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

The emerging illness, which is also referred to as ‘post COVID’, occurs in individuals who have had confirmed or probable new coronavirus infections, “usually three months on from the onset of the COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis,” said Dr Janet Diaz, WHO’s Head of Clinical Management.

However, a number of countries and healthcare authorities have already come up with their own definition of long COVID and its symptoms.

WATCH: COVID-19 exposed our inequities. Long COVID may exacerbate them

In a document detailing its reasons for pursuing a globally standardized clinical case definition, WHO said that a lack of clarity among healthcare professionals about the condition has complicated efforts in advancing research and treatment.

In issuing the definition, WHO noted that most patients who suffer from COVID-19 fully recover, although some suffer long-term effects on several body systems, including pulmonary, cardiovascular and nervous systems, as well as psychological effects.

These effects can happen irrespective of the initial severity of infection; they also occur more frequently in women, middle age, and in those who displayed more symptoms initially.

READ MORE: Vaccines may help some ‘long COVID’ patients

Describing the new definition as “an important step forward” in standardizing the recognition of patients with post COVID-19 condition, Dr Diaz said it was the UN agency’s hope that “it will help clinicians and health workers recognize patients and start them on appropriate treatments and interventions and care pathways.”

Dr Diaz also said she hopes that policymakers and health systems will set up and implement integrated health models to care for these patients.

Although several tests exist for the initial COVID-19 infection, there is no such solution for post COVID-19 condition, and it is still unclear exactly what triggers it in sufferers.