Trending Clinical Topic: PASC

Ryan Syrek


March 12, 2021

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At a recent White House briefing, Anthony Fauci, MD, introduced a new acronym for what had been called "long COVID." PASC is the new term used to describe long-lingering effects of COVID-19 (see Infographic below) and is this week's top trending clinical topic.

At the briefing, Fauci stressed that even patients with moderate cases of COVID-19 can develop PASC. "New symptoms sometimes arise well after the time of infection, or they evolve over time and persist for months," he explained. "They can range from mild or annoying to actually quite incapacitating." Fauci noted that the National Institutes of Health recently launched an initiative to further study the phenomenon.

The most common symptoms of PASC include fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, mental health issues, sleep difficulties, impaired lung capacity, and what has been called COVID brain fog. Loss of smell is also a well-recognized long-term effect, especially for healthcare workers. New research has found that more than 50% of those in medicine who had COVID-19 say their sense of smell has not returned to normal an average of 5 months after infection.

PASC has been reported in all age groups, including children. A recent preprint posted on medRxiv, which has yet to be peer reviewed, provides preliminary evidence that children may also have symptoms that last for months after their initial SARS-CoV-2 infection. Researchers surveyed caregivers of 129 patients younger than 18 years in Rome, Italy, who had a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. More than 50% of the children had at least one symptom that persisted 4 months or longer, with nearly a quarter (22.5%) reporting three or more such symptoms.

Doctors say they are seeing more and more cases of PASC. This is leading to questions about best practices for management. Experts say the key is validating patients' symptoms and making sure they feel heard, as specific guidelines for workup and treatment are still in development.

For now, when it comes to tackling symptoms like fatigue, specialists recommend "keeping it simple." Advising patients to be patient, get extra rest, and undergo sleep evaluation is a good starting point, says Aaron B. Holley, MD, program director of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

The introduction of the new term is just the latest sign that the condition is likely to stay at the forefront of discussions during the next stage of the pandemic. Because so much about PASC is still unknown, and because the symptoms are so varied, interest in emerging information remains high, as is evident by its becoming this week's top trending clinical topic.

Read more clinical information about PASC.


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