What is long covid? Current understanding about risks, symptoms and recovery.

One major concern about contracting the coronavirus is the possibility of developing long covid, or persistent symptoms that can range from mild to debilitating and last for weeks, months or longer. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

The condition known as long covid continues to frustrate its sufferers, baffle scientists and alarm people who are concerned about being infected by the coronavirus. The term, a widely used catchall phrase for persistent symptoms that can range from mild to debilitating and last for weeks, months or longer, is technically known as Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection, or PASC. But scientists say much remains unknown about long covid, which is also referred to colloquially as “long-haul covid,” “long-term covid,” “post-covid conditions” and “post-covid syndrome,” among other names.

“This is a condition that we don’t even have an agreed-upon name for yet, and we don’t have any understanding really of what’s going on down at a chemical level,” said Greg Vanichkachorn, medical director of Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 Activity Rehabilitation Program. “So, until we have that kind of understanding, it’s really important that we not make quick decisions about what long covid can or can’t be.”

The National Institutes of Health has launched a research initiative to study the potential consequences of being infected with the coronavirus, including long covid, with the goal of identifying causes as well as means of prevention and treatment. It is building a nationwide study population to conduct that research.

In the meantime, experts said, long covid shouldn’t be dismissed or taken lightly. “This is real, definable, and causes significant patient suffering,” said Bruce Levy, chief of the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “The majority of people who got acutely infected felt totally normal before they had their infection, and now they don’t feel normal. That’s jarring.”

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The Washington Post spoke with experts who are researching and treating long covid, and compiled answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the condition. Please keep in mind that, because covid and its potential long-term effects are continuing to be studied and understood, many of these answers are not definitive, and information will probably change.