For all the twists and turns of the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps none is stranger than so-called “Long Covid,” “Long Haul Covid,” or “Chronic Covid.” With almost countless and often bizarre symptoms from which some sufferers feel they will never recover — in at least one high-profile case leading to suicide — it almost seems like another media clickbait concoction. Except that the medical community is taking it very seriously too, with Anthony Fauci calling it “quite real and quite extensive.” And unlike some other mass psychosomatic (the more accepted term now is “psychogenic”) syndromes that appear to have little in common in terms of exposure but only in symptoms, these do: COVID.
Or do they? What if you knew that the overwhelming majority of these sufferers never had a positive antigen test to indicate present COVID infection or an antibody test to show past infection? What if you knew that just as hospitals were paid bonuses to declare cases as COVID rather than any number of other potential causes of death, the U.S. government is paying a bounty to researchers to pontificate on “Long COVID”?
And what if you knew the demographic profile for sufferers of acute COVID is vastly different from that of so-called “long-haulers”? Acute COVID (normally lasting about one to four weeks) is essentially a disease of the elderly and hits males and blacks harder than females and whites. “Long COVID” is overwhelmingly a disease of white middle-aged females.
What if you also knew that those “Long COVID” demographics, even according to those who insist this is definitely COVID-related, happen to match those of previous somatoform diseases (even if it’s become not just un-PC but a career-killer to say so) such as “multiple chemical sensitivity” and “fibromyalgia encephalitis/chronic fatigue syndrome” and that indeed even these syndromes appear to have been identified well over a century ago?
Finally, what if you knew that far from doing sufferers a favor by misclassifying their symptoms we’re actually dooming them to perhaps a lifetime of suffering because just as there’s no cure to the above somatoform diseases there will never be a cure to “Long COVID,” leaving these people forever in despair sometimes, as with Dawson’s Creek writer Heidi Ferrer who took her own life in May after what her husband called “an unremitting battle with long-haul COVID-19.” She was 50 years old.
Okay, stop right now for a very important explanation. Psychogenic illnesses or somatoform diseases do not mean “it’s all in your head.” Mass psychogenic illness in schools has been documented for the last half millennium, is very common, and often accompanied by vomiting. The vomit is quite real. Psychogenic-related heart disease is well-documented. Yes, people do die of a “broken heart.” Heidi Ferrer is truly dead. “Psychogenic” merely refers to a mental origin, an “abnormal state in which psychologic processes resulting in physiologic reactions are believed to play a prominent role.” That which causes psychogenic illness, whether mass or individual, is called a “nocebo” or the opposite of a placebo.
With “Long COVID” the nocebo is anybody and everybody who treats it as something other than mass psychogenic illness, whether it’s the clickbait media or Fauci.
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 or antibody. The only connection to COVID was the attestation of the sufferers. They “felt” they had COVID, regardless of evidence.
An August study of 3,151 British (“long haulers”) in Pragmatic and Observational Research found only 17.2% were test-confirmed positive. A further 12% said they were told they had acute COVID, but no test was performed. And over 70% 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 found that only “About a quarter of respondents (23.1%) tested positive for COVID-19” but in “our analysis, we included all responses regardless of testing status.”
Usually, mainstream media articles simply skip the positivity issue altogether. In fact, it’s considered “insensitive” to note that “long-haulers” tested negative and many patients complain bitterly to journalists about this being pointed out to them by caregivers. “I had no proof that I’d had COVID,” complained one about his doctor. “I felt kind of crazy already, and he was validating my feeling of being crazy.”
But even acute COVID has always been a strange beast when it comes to definitions. Neither the CDC nor the WHO requires SARS-CoV-2 tests for labeling either COVID cases or deaths and often enough you hear of cases classified as COVID where clearly the virus wasn’t involved. Belgium complains it has a bad reputation for having such a high COVID death rate, yet has a policy of merely presuming nursing care deaths to be from the virus. Then there’s the “with” and “of” issue. Any study you consult, whether that of the CDC or the Italian government, finds almost all “COVID fatalities” had comorbidities that could have just as well killed them. Indeed rarely is there only one comorbidity. Thus, we surely exaggerate mortality when we say “died of COVID” as it should be “was infected with or presumed infected with COVID at the time of death.”
So why should anyone break form and insist that those with “long COVID” have a test to show exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus? If subjects “feel” they were exposed, that’s good enough.
Another problem with the “Long COVID” diagnosis is their symptomology is vastly too wide. It seems to encompass almost anything. Go back to the University College London, which recruited from advocacy groups like Body Politic, Long COVID Support Group, Long Haul COVID Fighters, as well as social media. Importantly, those symptoms were self-reported and thus impossible to verify even with tests. They comprised a striking 203 in number. The most common to persist after half a year, also seen in other “long COVID” studies, were fatigue, something called “brain fog,” and reductions in exercise capacity. But with over 200 symptoms you’re going to find virtually everything known to exist – and some heretofore not known to exist.
These include “facial pressure, something called “COVID toe” (obviously a novel symptom), feeling quickly full while eating, and “disease in testicular size/penis.” This last is actually the primary symptom of a mass psychogenic illness most common in Asia and Africa called “koro,” in which men believe that, usually as a result of a curse, their genitalia are shrinking or have literally disappeared. Don’t laugh; penis thief “sorcerers” have been lynched.
“Brain fog” may seem self-explanatory, but it’s not. It’s only now been added to the Collins Dictionary, defined as a “usually temporary inability to concentrate and think clearly.” That’s what you thought. In fact it comprises really any neuropsychiatric problem including headaches, anxiety, low energy, insomnia, and even apparently autism. But what’s catchier: “neuropsychiatric disorders” or “brain fog”?
Further, you can find references to symptoms beyond those 203. Just as the media scour the planet for acute COVID deaths that don’t match the usual profile of older people with comorbidities, with “Long COVID” they scan for the most bizarre Weekly World News-type symptoms to titillate the reader. The New York Times claimed to have reports of paranoid psychosis in some “long-haulers,” including thoughts of murder — most foul or otherwise. Another outlet relates a “long-hauler” with “alien hand syndrome,” which has nothing to do with ET’s finger or the horror movie theme of possessed victims strangling others against their will. It just means the hand doing something other than intended and has distinct causes such as a brain trauma or surgery or stroke and show up on brain scans. But with the subject of this article, there was no mention that she had any such test.
On the other end of the exoticness spectrum, the Times article also appeared to cite a bacterial infection as a “long COVID” symptom. So to be clear, any symptom, including those that don’t exist, can qualify.
The CDC, perhaps aware of this bizarre all-encompassing aspect, limits its symptom list to 13 main ones yet only one is strongly associated with acute COVID, “loss of smell or taste.” Which is to say, they are worthless in distinguishing “long COVID” from other illnesses.
Notwithstanding that anything can be a symptom of “long COVID,” remarkably there’s little overlap with acute COVID symptoms and the more common “long-hauler” ones. The hallmark of COVID-19 is respiratory infections; yet these are rare in the “long COVID” cohorts. A bar graph in the University College study lists the 13 most common LHC symptoms; none are respiratory.
Despite admonishments ad nauseam that “COVID doesn’t discriminate by age,” acute COVID patients are overwhelmingly elderly: the CDC indicates Americans 65-74 are six times more likely to be hospitalized and an amazing 95 times more likely to die than those age 18-29. Italian data show mean mortality at 80. Yet “long COVID” patients are overwhelmingly middle-aged, with the largest University College decile at 40-49 and the August Pragmatic Observations in Research study having a median age of 53. As to gender, acute COVID diagnoses are about the same male/female but severe cases measured as admittance to ICUs or deaths are overwhelmingly male. Yet, the University College “long-haulers” are about 80% female; the Pragmatic study 72%. The aforementioned advocacy group study found only 17% to be male.
(Bizarrely, an Atlantic article used this curious ratio to portray “long COVID” as a feminist issue, without observing that acute COVID “discriminates against” men.)
And here’s a stunner. In the U.S among acute COVID patients, non-Hispanic American blacks are slightly more likely to have been diagnosed with the disease, almost three times as likely to be hospitalized, and are twice as likely to have died as non-Hispanic whites according to the CDC. For Hispanic/Latinos it’s 1.9, 2.8, and 2.3 times. But in the Pragmatic study, 96.2% of “long-haulers” were white. Mind, those were Britons and the UK population is more white than the American one but not by much, 80% white alone versus 76%. No infectious disease, no pathogen, is going to single out race or gender like that.
“Long-haulers” also have curious income demographics. According to an appendix in the University College study, “A majority of participants in the USA, UK, and Canada 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.” (The Pragmatic and Observational Research study had no income data.)
There’s really nothing “COVID” about “Long COVID” patients — except what the media, advocacy groups, and sometimes patients themselves are saying. And patients aren’t necessarily the best people to whom to assign expertise. A 1992 Roper poll indicated 3.7 million Americans said they believed they had personally been abducted by aliens. Personally, not that they believed alien abductions existed. And since they were just talking to pollsters and not jockeying for an appearance on late-night TV there’s good reason to believe they actually thought they had been abducted. But perhaps less reason to believe it actually happened.
But we’ve been down this path before. Long before “Long-COVID” researchers had identified other syndromes remarkably similar to each other both in terms of demographics and symptoms and now remarkably similar to “Long COVID.” The British have long used the term “nervous exhaustion,” with apparently the first discussion in medical literature in 1840. The Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal that year said sufferers complained of “faintness and weariness and incapability of speaking … or of exertion of any kind.”
A similar diagnosis was “neurasthenia,” the first known reference appearing to be in a multi-volume 1823 text by a British physician. “Patients with neurasthenia present with the predominant complaint of physical and mental fatigue, exacerbated by exertion,” states an overview. Like “nervous exhaustion,” it has fallen out of favor in favor of a term (used by the U.S. Public Health Agency) comprising two previous syndromes, “Myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome,” or ME/CFS.
There are also offshoots such as Gulf War Syndrome on which I have extensively written, for which nobody has posited any causes that makes sense or to which any more than a small minority of alleged sufferers were exposed (such as depleted uranium, in this case.) The very term “syndrome” is a red flag in that it means a constellation that may have no more connection than the stars that make up the Greek ones, with two points of light somehow signifying a dog. (Not incidentally, the NIH has referred to “Long COVID” as a “constellation of symptoms.”)
Both proponents of these syndromes as organic and who now include “Long COVID,” as well as those who say they are psychogenic, have recognized remarkable verisimilitude. That includes Fauci who has acknowledged that the symptoms are “highly suggestive” of ME/CFS.
“Early studies into long COVID symptomatology suggest many overlaps with clinical presentation of ME/CFS,” states an article in the April 2021 Medicina. “Insights from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome May Help Unravel the Pathogenesis of Postacute COVID-19 Syndrome” is the title of one medical journal article.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) in a 1999 position statement also related ME/CFS to something called “multiple chemical sensitivity” (MCS), alternatively called “idiopathic environmental intolerances” and “clinical ecology.” This is the only one of the mysterious syndromes, up until “Long COVID,” that supposedly had a common etiology or source. But a most curious one.
Christened and originally blamed on petrochemical exposure by an allergist in the 1950s, the causes of MCS eventually became all synthetic chemicals even as the list of symptoms grew and grew to where eventually anything could qualify. But that with a distinct odor such as perfumes is especially suspect. (Sure enough, “Long COVID” is also being associated with fragrance allergies, including one man who supposedly became allergic to his car’s smell.)
This will sound quite familiar. The MCS diagnosis, according to the AAAAI, “is typically made on the basis of the patient’s history, without any defining criteria. There are no diagnostic symptoms, and there are no diagnostic objective physical signs.” Insisting on applying science and empiricism the AAAAI has trashed the MCS diagnosis, in 1999 declaring a “Review of the clinical ecology literature provides inadequate support for the beliefs and practices of clinical ecology…. Diagnoses and treatments involve procedures of no proven efficacy.” Other leading bodies agree, including the American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs, and the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Physicians and others who “treat” this condition hook their patients for life because there’s no cure and never will be. “Advocacy groups” for such patients such as the Chemical Injury Information Network, the National Coalition for the Chemically Injured, and the National Foundation for the Chemically Hypersensitive are often just referral fronts. Likewise, “post-Covid care clinics” have sprung up around the country.
As to ME/CFS, see if this under the CDC definition seem familiar. “People with ME/CFS are often not able to do their usual activities” and often have “overwhelming fatigue that is not improved by rest. ME/CFS may get worse after any activity, whether it’s physical or mental. This symptom is known as post-exertional malaise (PEM). Other symptoms can include problems with sleep, thinking and concentrating, pain, and dizziness.”
Yes, as Fauci acknowledged, it certainly smacks of “Long Covid.” That includes the demographics. According to the Veterans’ Department, “research suggests that women are 4X more likely to get CFS than men. Statistics also show that people between ages 40 and 59 are most affected by the disorder.” (Nevertheless, for the sake of political correctness the agency declares, “CFS does not discriminate against age, gender, ethnicity, race, or socioeconomic status.”)
So why does ME/CFS have a definition at all? Chalk it up to advocacy groups, a clickbait hungry media, and public demand for the mysterious. Amazon.com sells over 1,000 CFS books.
Once formidable scientific opposition has melted away. Because of new data? No, because of fanatical hounding such as I first encountered with my work showing that, no, AIDS isn’t “exploding into the heterosexual population” and whatnot. My 1990 book was banned from many stores and by the country’s largest book distributor and I was fired from two jobs and unemployable thereafter for two years. Interestingly, my seminal AIDS piece in 1987 got me only praise. What happened in the ensuing three years? It had become an activist issue.
As to ME/CFS, three years ago Reuters ran a remarkable article “Online Activists Are Silencing Us, Scientists Say,” in which researchers seeking answers to actual causes of the syndrome and bonafide 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. “Patients are the losers here.”
Singled out for opprobrium have been researchers of the PACE trial, published in the Lancet medical journal in 2011, that found cognitive behavioral therapy — designed to help patients change their thinking and behavior — along with graduated exercise, comprised a safe treatment that was effective for many sufferers. As to the difficulty of many ME/CFS and “long haulers” to engage in lengthy bouts of exercise, the PACE study didn’t say this but simple ingestion of a combination of caffeine and OTC ephedrine or even caffeine alone has shown it can prolong these. But these people are not being told that. Activists were incensed at the PACE study, chief among them an AIDS activist who simply switched from one politicized disease to another. He and his fellows actually got the CDC to cave — it removed references to cognitive behavioral therapy and exercise therapy from its website. Likewise, they hounded the prestigious “gold standard” Cochrane Review to modify its evaluation of studies that concluded that exercise appeared beneficial as an ME/CFS treatment.
So not surprisingly, among medical researchers there has been almost total silence on associating “Long COVID” with psychogenic disease. When I reached out to the very few who had done so in any forum and even to those who had linked ME/CFS to psychogenesis, I received the silent treatment. They had been taught they had nothing to gain and everything to lose by questioning the dogma.
So now those losing are the ones told they have “long COVID.” What they need to hear is that based on the symptoms and demographics, the underlying etiology for their illness syndrome, as with MCS, ME/CFS, and the other somatoform mass illnesses is depression.
Unipolar depression is projected to soon become the second leading cause of disability worldwide and the leading cause of disability in high-income nations, including the United States. We’ve long known that clinical depression in and of itself is potentially a cause of tremendous psychic pain that often surpasses physical pain. The federal government estimates that about 60 percent of American who commit suicide have had a mood disorder, primarily depression. While misinformed individuals may unintentionally be cruel and tell depressives “Just snap out of it!” the medical community realizes it’s a pathology as real as heart disease and cancer.
A multi-continent New England Journal of Medicine report showed about half of people with depression also had unexplained physical symptoms, which they often considered more serious than the mental ones. Yes, they tend to match the most common symptoms of “Long COVID,” including persistent fatigue, mental and physical slowing, and trouble concentrating. The current edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists among major somatic (physical) disorders of depression both “fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day, and “diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.”
Even the mainstream media have associated “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.”
Depression is difficult to treat and we desperately need better understanding of the condition or conditions to develop better therapies, but pharmaceuticals and talk therapy can be efficacious, as can electroconvulsive therapy despite its generally bad reputation in the U.S. That said, a disease not properly diagnosed has little chance of proper treatment. By labeling depression “multiple chemical sensitivity,” ME/CFS, “Long-COVID,” or anything but depression we enrich the industries that cater to these people but we damn the sufferers.
Further, aspects of the COVID crisis may have been a significant contributor to depression and hence “Long-COVID,” especially perhaps the lockdowns.
A JAMA study last September reported that “prevalence of depression symptoms in the U.S. increased more than 3-fold during the COVID-19 pandemic, from 8.5% before COVID-19 to 27.8% during COVID-19.” Spread across the country, we’re talking over 60 million extra depressives — a rather larger number than anyone has attributed to “Long-COVID.” Was this depression because of fear of the virus? Perhaps in part. The researchers noted that mass trauma and depression are clearly linked. But among their subjects they found the “burden is being borne by economically and socially marginalized groups,” which has a strong overlap with those hurt most by the lockdowns and accompany income loss. That means people less able to work remotely or to have benefits packages above and beyond the government “safety net.”
It’s not even arguable that the lockdowns have been disastrous to economies, mental health, and encourage authoritarianism even as the data on efficacy in prevention is questionable, especially with the continual rise of new viral variants. Now we can add another evil. To be sure, many “long haulers” have suffered depression for many years before they heard of “Long COVID” and simply made their own connection. But some percentage surely were spun into the dark pit of depression by the lockdowns. It is yet another factor to be considered when deciding to use the power of the state to control human interaction.
Meanwhile, nobody would be linking their depression or unrelated symptom constellation to “Long-COVID” if the term hadn’t been invented. It’s what Dr. Edward Shorter, Professor of the History of Medicine, Professor of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, told me in an interview for an article on Gulf War Syndrome is a “mediagenic illness.”
And with “Long-COVID” it’s not just the mainstream media.
It was at an early December symposium where Fauci declared “Long-COVID” is “quite real and quite extensive.” He’s the same Fauci who apparently got promoted to his current bully pit as head of the National Institutes for Allergies and Infectious Medicines in 1984 for essentially kick-starting the “AIDS democratization” campaign in 1983 with an article in the prestigious medical journal JAMA saying there was evidence of casual transmission. This was long after it was clear it was a difficult-to-transmit disease of bodily fluids. NIH Director Francis Collins also gave “Long-COVID” his blessing, with his agency assigning the authoritative-sounding name of “Post-acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC). That’s all it took for Congress to quickly provide $1.15 billion in funding over four years for NIH to support research.
The average NIH grant now is about $500,000, but application success rate is only about 20%. So that makes for fierce competition and indeed the PubMed database of medical and scientific journals already lists over 1,000 articles on the subject.
Mind, NIH doesn’t want and will not fund grant requests saying its new pet disease doesn’t exist. You’ll get no funds hypothesizing that “Long COVID” is essentially depression and that therefore it needs to be treated like depression. Instead, you will propound on how it is a mystery disease with as yet no successful therapies. Further, the medical and science journals are in the business of getting publicity and making money. As I’ve recently noted elsewhere, non-reproducible results that are most probably that way because they’re shoddy science get more attention not just in the clickbait MSM but in other medical and science journals. That translates into yet more grant money. It won’t be any different with “Long-COVID.” We’ve also long known that papers with positive results (“Yes, there is” versus “No, there isn’t”) are also more likely to get printed. That means inevitably that NIH’s $1.15 billion is going to produce a load of junk and keep “Long-COVID” going and going just like the pink bunny even as it also provides the MSM with fodder for years to come.
A commentary in America’s most prestigious medical journal, the NEJM, in what appears to be a pre-emptive strike, has already scolded those who believe “Long-COVID” to “likely to have a non-physiological origin.” The opinion piece “Confronting Our Next National Health Disaster — Long-Haul Covid,” declares the authors aghast that “Some commentators have characterized it as a mental illness, and those embracing this psychogenic paradigm are reluctant to endorse a substantial societal focus on research or to follow traditional organ-specific clinical pathways to addressing patients’ concerns.” It says, this “augurs poorly for many people with long Covid.”
The converse is actually true. What Ronald E. Gots wrote of MCS in the March 1995 Journal of Toxicology holds equally true for “Long COVID.” It’s “a dangerous diagnosis,” said the then- and current executive director of Environmental Sensitivities Research Institute in Rockville, Maryland, a clearinghouse for scientific data. It “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.”
Likewise, for so-called “long haulers.” The prognosis is they will be left forever in limbo.
Michael Fumento (www.fumento.com) is an attorney, author, and journalist who has been writing on epidemic hysterias for more than 35 years.
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