Clinic director explains how UC Davis Health is caring for coronavirus patients whose symptoms sometimes last months
The new UC Davis Post-COVID-19 Clinic is one of just a handful in the country that offers comprehensive care to "long-haul" patients who appear to have survived COVID-19 but still have lasting, worrisome symptoms. Mark Avdalovic, a pulmonary and critical care specialist and medical director of the UC Davis Pulmonary Clinics, answers questions about the new clinic.
Why are you starting this new clinic?
Our pulmonary care specialists, along with the hospital medicine and emergency medicine teams, have been on the front line taking care of patients in the hospital with COVID-19, where our focus was to save lives. However, as patients recover from the initial attack of the virus, physicians throughout the region are seeing more and more patients with ongoing COVID-related health concerns — like breathing issues, exercise endurance, headaches, tiredness or concentration problems. We want to help them. The post-COVID clinic will provide a centralized, comprehensive approach to address patients’ wide array of symptoms.
How widespread is this problem?
There are no precise statistics on the prevalence of long-haul COVID-19 patients. We do know that people who, in theory, have recovered from the worst impacts of the coronavirus and test negative can still have symptoms lasting weeks or months. A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association and a study from a team of British scientists estimate that about 10% of COVID-19 patients fight these long-term symptoms. That’s in line with what UC Davis Health is seeing.
Are the people who were the most seriously ill with COVID-19 most likely to have these ongoing symptoms?
— Mark Avdalovic
No, that’s what is so interesting. Those ongoing symptoms aren’t necessarily associated with how sick someone was at first with the virus. We’ve seen people with mild cases and no previous health issues who are affected for months afterward with on again, off again symptoms. In fact, recent publications have highlighted that some patients without symptoms during their acute infection appear to have evidence of inflammation in their lungs and heart.
Why is the clinic based in pulmonary medicine?
With all patients, COVID-19 is a respiratory infection, and patients with ongoing symptoms will often continue to experience respiratory complaints. COVID-19 can have long term effects on the airways, lung capacity, and the ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. Our experience in treating the patients in the hospital helps us have a thorough understanding of the potential long-term effects. The opportunity to see the patients in the clinic brings that care full circle.
What will you do in your clinic that isn’t being done elsewhere?
First, we’ll be providing one place where patients can get answers to their questions and potentially start on a treatment plan. We also have partnered with specialists throughout our health system to provide timely consultations. Given what we have seen so far in patients, we expect to collaborate with cardiology, vascular, neurology and infectious disease-immunology specialists.
Second, we’ll be gathering information for the benefit of COVID-19 patients throughout the world. There are just a few institutions like ours looking at the lifecycle effects of COVID-19 and setting standards for that longer-term care. We’ll be one of them.
What are the criteria for patients in the clinic?
We are available for any patient who has tested positive for COVID-19, had their first symptoms at least 30 days ago, and is concerned about health issues that weren’t apparent before the virus struck or who feel they are not back to normal. We are here to help.
Physicians who would like to refer a patient should call 1-800-4-UCDAVIS (1-800-482-3284) and select option #3.