Covid-19: Long Haul

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-58918869 Some people with Long Haul Covid-19 are having to relearn how to walk and talk.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-leicestershire-59674203. Patients who were hospitalized are still affected at 5 months and one year after they are released from the hospital. Being female and obese are big risk factors. The article says “Long Covid has the potential to become highly prevalent as a new long-term condition.”

One more:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8146298/ ” While the precise definition of long COVID may be lacking, the most common symptoms reported in many studies are fatigue and dyspnoea that last for months after acute COVID-19. Other persistent symptoms may include cognitive and mental impairments, chest and joint pains, palpitations, myalgia, smell and taste dysfunctions, cough, headache, and gastrointestinal and cardiac issues.”
“One puzzling feature of long COVID is that it affects survivors of COVID-19 at all disease severity. Studies have discovered that long COVID affects even mild-to-moderate cases and younger adults who did not require respiratory support or hospital or intensive care. Patients who were no longer positive for SARS-CoV-2 and discharged from the hospital, as well as outpatients, can also develop long COVID [24,30,31,41,50]. More concerningly, long COVID also targets children, including those who had asymptomatic COVID-19, resulting in symptoms such as dyspnoea, fatigue, myalgia, cognitive impairments, headache, palpitations, and chest pain that last for at least 6 months [51–53].”

And the symptoms? “The most common ongoing symptoms were fatigue, muscle pain, physically slowing down, poor sleep and breathlessness.”

Yes, the same as mine.

My initial evaluation of Long Haul Covid-19 patients will cover three areas:

1. Behavioral Health. Are they having brain fog, feeling slowed, feeling like they can’t think? Is that what happened during the Covid-19 or did the opposite happen? Were they manic/ADHD/OCD etc? What happened in the weeks leading up to getting sick? Any major worries or life trauma? Lose a job, a relationship, someone in the family die? I am looking for a dopamine antibody pattern.

2. Musculoskeletal Chronic Fatigue. What muscles work and which muscles don’t work? If they need to lie in bed for 20 hours a day, both slow and fast twitch muscles are affected. If they are short of breath, they should have pulmonary function tests, including a loaded and unloaded walk test. Are their oxygen saturations dropping? They also need a sleep study. Check for sleep apnea. Any signs of ongoing infection with anything? Teeth, sinuses, ears, throat, lungs, stomach, lower gut, urinary, skin.

3. Musculoskeletal Fibromyalgia. WHEN do their muscles hurt? Is it after eating? Do they fall asleep after they eat or does their blood pressure drop after eating? What diet changes have they made? Are there things they have identified that they can’t eat? Gluten, lactose, meat, sucrose, fructose, nightshades, whatever. I am looking for antibodies to lysogangliosides.

Treatment:

High antibody levels can be lowered somewhat just with “lifestyle changes” aka no drugs.

A. Treat infection if present. Look for strep A with an ASO, since we have an occult one that is in the lungs, not the throat. For fungal infection, even just on the skin, lower blood sugar as much as tolerated. This may mean a ketotic diet.

B. Treat behavioral health with drugs if emergent. If suicidal or really losing it (meaning job/relationships/whatever), then drugs may be needed. But not forever. Avoid benzodiazepines. Check for addictions.

C. Lower antibody levels:
a. Lower stress. Many people will resist this. Counseling highly recommended, ‘cept they are all swamped. Have the person draw the three circles: a day in the present life, their ideal life and then what their body wants. Listen to the body.

b. You can sweat antibodies out: hot baths, hot shower, steam room, sauna, exercise. Daily in the morning, because cortisol rises when we get up, and so levels should be lowered.

c. Is there a stimulant that works for this person to calm them down? Or an antidepressant if they are slowed instead of sped up. The relatives of dopamine that work for ME are coffee caffeine and terbutaline. Ones that do NOT work for me include albuterol and tea caffeine. Ones that I have not tried include theophylline, that new relative of albuterol and ADHD meds like adderall. This will be individual to the person because we all make different antibodies. We are looking for a drug that displaces the dopamine antibodies. For people who are slowed or have brain fog, the stimulants may not work. I would try the SSRI antidepressants first, like sertraline and citalopram, unless the patient tells me they don’t work or make them anxious. I would screen for PTSD. For high PTSD scores and high ACE scores, I would use the old tricyclics, mirtazapine (which is NOT a benzodiazepine), wellbutrin or trazodone. Again, avoid benzodiazepines. Also check how much alcohol and marijuana are on board, because those are definitely going to make brain fog worse. The functional medicine people are treating mystery patients with hyperbaric oxygen chambers and I suspect that this works for the people with blocker tubulin antibodies.

d. Muscle pain/fibromyalgia symptoms. Avoid opioids, they will only work temporarily and may addict. Avoid muscle relaxants, they will only work temporarily. Again, the tricyclics may help. The newer antiseizure drugs that are indicated for fibromyalgia are possibilities, though as an “old” doctor I am conservative about “new” drugs. Gabapentin, pregabalin, and if the person is sped up, antiseizure medicines that are used for mania. GENTLE exercise. The line between me having a good day today and overdoing is knife thin. On the overdoing days I go to bed at 5 pm. I went to sleep at 5 pm yesterday and 6:30 last night. I sang for church last night and even though I’d driven myself there, one of the quartet offered to drive me home. “Do I look that grey?” I asked. “Yes.” he said. I turn grey from fatigue and it can be sudden. Right now it’s after my second meal. If I am active, I will fall asleep after lunch if I can. If I go really light on lunch, I crash right after dinner. And remember, I am one of the lucky people who only have fast twitch muscles affected, not fast and slow twitch.

I am adding this to yesterday’s Ragtag Daily Prompt: hopeful.

Causes of death: which does your doctor treat?

What is the number one cause of death in the United States? The heart. You know that.

You might know the number two: all the cancer deaths put together.

Number three is lower respiratory disease: mostly caused by tobacco.

Number four. Can you guess? Number four is accidents. Unintentional deaths. In 2012 number four was stroke, but unintentional deaths have moved up the list, here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm. The CDC tracks unintentional deaths, here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/accidental-injury.htm. And what is the number one cause of unintentional death right now? It is not gun accidents. It is not car wrecks. It is not falls. It is unintentional overdose: usually opioids, legal or illegal, often combined with other sedating medicines or alcohol. Alcohol, sleep medicines, benzodiazepines, some muscle relaxants. No suicide note. Not on purpose. Or we don’t know if it is on purpose….

And does your physician try to prevent accidental death? Do they talk to you about seatbelts, about wearing bicycle helmets, about smoke alarms, about falls in the elderly, about domestic violence, about locking up guns? About not driving when under the influence? Do they talk about addiction and do they treat addiction?I think that every primary care physician should treat the top ten causes of death. I am a family medicine physician and I try to work with any age, any person. I treat addiction as well as chronic pain. I have always tried to talk about the risk of opiates when I prescribe them. I treat addictions including alcoholism, methamphetamines, cocaine, tobacco and opioids. Legal, illegal and iv opioids, from oxcodone and hydrocodone to heroin. That doesn’t mean I can safely treat every patient outpatient. People with multi drug addiction, or complex mental health with addiction, or severe withdrawal must be treated inpatient. But I have taken the buprenorphine training to get my second DEA number to learn how to safely treat opiate overuse. I took the course in 2011. I was the only physician in my county of 27,000 people who was a prescriber for two years. Now we have more, but still the vast majority of physicians in the United States have not taken the training even when it is offered free.

I don’t understand why more physicians, primary care doctors, are NOT taking the buprenorphine and recognition and treatment of opiate overuse course. Most are not trained. Why not take the training? Even if they are not prescribers, they will be much better informed for the options for patients. People are dying from opioids daily. Physicians have a DEA number to prescribe controlled substances: I think that every physician who prescribes opioids also has a duty and obligation to train to recognized and intervene and be informed about treating opioid overuse.

A large clinic group in Portland, Oregon made the decision last year that every primary care provider was required to train in buprenorphine. One provider disagreed and chose to leave. However, everyone else is now trained.

We as a country and as physicians need to get past fear, past stigma, past discrimination and past our fixed ideas and step up to take care of patients. If a physician treats alcoholism as part of primary care, they should also be knowledgeable and trained in treatment of opiate overuse.

Ask YOUR physician and YOUR local clinics: Do the providers prescribe opiates? Are their providers trained in preventing, recognizing and treating opiate addiction? Do they treat opiate overuse? Do they understand how buprenorphine can save lives and return people to work and to their families? Are they part of the solution?

For the Daily Prompt: provoke.

Reducing recidivism: Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office and Human Services Program

The last two days have been at the 20th Annual Fundamentals of Addiction Medicine Conference in Washington State, 15 lectures. Everything from science trying to understand addiction via studying dopamine in ratbrains to the last presentation: Snohomish County started a program two years ago that pairs a social worker with a county sheriff or deputy to work with the homeless.

The county is trying to stop the revolving door of homeless to arrested to jail to homeless. 95% of the county homeless are addicted to heroin and some to methamphetamines. They don’t access services when they are “dope sick”. They describe heroin as being 10x worse than the worst influenza. I think of withdrawal from opioids as having all the pain receptors turned as high as they can go and screaming at once.

The sheriff and social worker go to the camps. They get to know people and offer services. They have helped over 100 people get their identification replaced. When someone is arrested, their homeless encampment is often stolen. No honor among thieves, you say? The rat studies address that: in addiction the brain puts the drug first, in front of food, water, sex. Some rats will access the drug until they die, just like people. I think of it as the person losing their boundaries to the drug. The conference used the phrase “incentive salience” — dopamine is released when the person or rat is cued that the drug is now available and again when the drug arrives. More on that in another write up.

At any rate, the clients do not get to appointments. So the deputy and social work start at the beginning: they make the appointment, go knock on the tent that morning, remind the person to get dressed, take them to get food and coffee and then take them to the appointment. Then they return them to their camp.

After two months, the first sheriff and social worker were so successful that the program was expanded.

They have 206 chemical dependency evaluations.
232 have gone to detox. The detox is 3-5 days. They are taken straight from there to inpatient treatment, 30 day minimum, but ranging from 30-90 days. After treatment, clients are taken straight to sober housing, with a 6 month supported stay and intensive outpatient treatment.
85% get through the detox.
59% graduate from the treatment
50% go on to sober housing and intensive outpatient.
Their first clean and sober client is two years out.

50% of the homeless who agree to the program getting to sober housing is huge. Recidivism and incarceration drop, so it is making a true difference.

The program is expanding. They have a Community Court set up, much like Juvenile Drug Court, modeled after a program in Spokane. If the person agrees to drug treatment, they can do that instead of jail. This is for minor offenders. The sheriff says that once the homeless person is incarcerated, everything is stolen. They then steal food and supplies for a new camp when released and it happens again. If the client completes the program, low level charges may be dropped. They are setting up a service center right by the court where the clients are sent immediately to talk to a chemical dependency person, to get medical treatment, dental emergencies, centralized services because these people do not have transportation.

The social worker is in kevlar and heavy clothes as well and is never to go in the encampments without the law enforcement officers: it’s usually private land so it would be trespassing anyway.

This was an absolutely inspiring presentation. It starts with outreach and intervention, and gives people choices. They will soon be opening a temporary site, up to 15 days with medical support and beds, for when a client is ready but the social worker needs to arrange the detox, the treatment, the housing. Sometimes when a client is finally ready, there are no beds. And they don’t want to send them to detox and then back to the streets. The sheriff says that he was “volutold” for the program, but he, the deputy and the social worker are all clearly inspired by the program and enjoy their work and that it is making a difference.

 

Any write up on addiction fits today’s Daily Prompt: messy.