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Second Opinion: Do I Have Long COVID? How Big Is the Monkeypox Threat?

Blue Shield of California's chief medical officer, Dr. Susan Fleischman, updates us on the latest dangers to our health

After more than two years, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge each of us in different ways. What can we do to stay physically and mentally healthy during this stressful time?

Dr. Susan Fleischman

There is no one single answer to this question as we are dealing not only with COVID-19 but also with a rash of gun violence in this country with no end in sight and no simple immediate fixes.

  • We’re experiencing a surge in COVID-19, and even though the virus seems to be less deadly, it is still a serious illness that can take weeks to recover from. Alameda County reinstated a mask requirement in most public indoor spaces this week. Continue to wear a mask when indoors or at crowded outdoor events and practice social distancing, even when these are not required.
  • People are behind on their routine health visits. It’s important to get your recommended preventive care and ongoing care for chronic diseases.
  • Two-plus years of social isolation, uncertainty and anxiety are taking a toll mentally. This on top of the horrific social injustice and gun violence we’ve experienced, along with economic pressures and day-to-day responsibilities, is likely contributing to a feeling of being worn down or even powerless. I can’t stress enough how important it is to seek help if you feel overwhelmed or depressed. You can talk to your primary care doctor, reach out to a mental health professional, or use one of the many apps available depending on the level of support you need.
  • Give yourself and others grace, try to fit in physical activity every day and reach out to a mental health professional if you’re struggling.
  • We know that the use of drugs and alcohol has increased during the pandemic as a coping mechanism. Dependence on these substances can make you feel worse. Seek help if you are struggling with this.

How do I know if I have ‘long Covid’?

There’s still a lot that we don’t know about long Covid. The good news is that the medical community is taking it seriously and trying to figure it out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some good information about long Covid, including recommendations on what to do if you think you might have it. There is now a medical code for this diagnosis which will allow the medical and scientific communities to identify who has it, understand more about it, and hopefully find solutions to prevent, cure, or at least treat long Covid

I never tested positive for the virus, does that mean I didn’t have it?

While it is possible that you have not yet contracted COVID-19, it is also possible that you contracted it without knowing it and/or tests did not yet indicate that you were infected.

Many people have had asymptomatic COVID-19 and are unaware that they had it. Others have been infected but had a false negative test. Antigen testing may be negative during the first several days of infection. PCR testing is more accurate in the early days of infection.

So, if you think/know you have been exposed, please take the appropriate isolation and testing measures to ensure your loved ones and community stays safe.

If I’ve never tested positive, will I catch COVID-19 or a variant at some point?

COVID-19 is with us now, so you may catch it at some point, and it is possible to be infected multiple times. Right now, we’re experiencing a surge due to several highly contagious variants. Just like preventing the flu, your best defenses are to get vaccinated, stay up to date on your booster, wash your hands often and wear a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor settings. Indoor dining is particularly high risk. I am quite vigilant about masking in public indoor spaces, even though I see those in my community making different choices.

Any final recommendations given our current reality?

I’ll reiterate the best ways to protect yourself: get vaccinated, stay up to date on your booster, wash your hands often and wear a mask in crowded spaces. And take care of yourself, your family, and your community-we are all in this together.

Should I be worried about Monkeypox?

As of this writing, there are reports of three suspected cases in California. Health experts are monitoring spread and currently, and there is no cause for alarm. This is still considered a rare disease in the US by the CDC. Monkeypox is not spread through the air the way COVID-19 is spread -- it is spread by close physical contact or exposure to droplets.

Dr. Susan Fleischman is chief medical officer at Blue Shield of California.