Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews has been off the ice for a fairly long time, having played his last National Hockey League (NHL) game back on January 28. And now it looks like he will be putting his game on ice for an even longer time. The 34-year-old Toews announced today that he’s been having a long struggle with something that’s gone long: long Covid.
Yep, Toews has long Covid, you know that thing that some politicians and personalities keep claiming doesn’t exist? Well, what’s been happening to Toews, the Captain of the Blackhawks, should be a reality check. He hasn’t even practiced with his team since February 5 and explained his absence in the following statement: “First of all, thank you to the fans and all those who have shown concern about my absence. I'm still dealing with the symptoms of Long Covid and chronic immune response syndrome. It has been really challenging to play through these symptoms. In the last few weeks, it has reached the point where I had where I had no choice but to step back and concentrate on getting healthy.” The Chicago Blackhawks included Toews full statement in a tweet:
It’s not clear how many people have been getting long Covid each day because the U.S. government hasn’t really been counting such things. And as you probably learned in kindergarten, when you don’t count something you don’t know how many there are. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), studies have suggested that somewhere from 10 to 20% of people who have had severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infections may have ended up with long Covid. So, even though the risk of hospitalization and death from Covid-19 isn’t as high now as it has been over the past two years, you may want to put those premature declarations of the pandemic being over on ice until there’s more clarity to the long Covid picture.
The WHO defines long Covid, otherwise known as Post Covid-19 Condition, as “the continuation or development of new symptoms 3 months after the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection, with these symptoms lasting for at least 2 months with no other explanation.” So, if you go by this definition, Toews presumably has had symptoms for at least two months. Toews didn’t mention specifically what long Covid symptoms he has had. The list of possible symptoms is long, like really long. In fact, there are over 200 different possible symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does list some common long Covid symptoms that fall into the categories of general symptoms such as life-altering fatigue and fever, respiratory and heart symptoms such as difficulty breathing, cough, chest pain, and irregular heart rhythms, neurological symptoms such as “brain fog”, headaches, sleep problems, funny sensations, and change in smell or taste, depression or anxiety, and digestive symptoms such as diarrhea and stomach pain.
Looks like long Covid will at least temporarily derail Toews’s ice hockey career, a career that has been quite illustrious since he was selected as the third pick of the 2006 NHL draft. It took him only two years to become the Blackhawks captain and only four years to be named in 2010 the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy. That was the first time he had helped lead the Blackhawks to the title. Yep, I said first time. He liked doing that so much, he did it two more times in 2013 and 2015. Toews also earned the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award in 2015. This season hasn’t exactly been shabby as Toews has already had 14 goals and 14 assists in 46 games. But he will likely have to wait for a while before adding those numbers.
You may have noticed another term in Toews’s announcement: chronic immune response syndrome. This wasn’t the first time that Toews had mentioned such a term. After he had missed all of the 2020-21 NHL season, Toews had posted the following tweet with a video on June 30, 2021:
In the video, he explained, “I just think there's a lot of things that just kind of piled up where my body just fell apart.” He continued by sayin, “So what they're calling it is chronic immune response syndrome, where I just couldn't quite recover and my immune system was reacting to everything I did, any kind of stress, anything that I would do throughout the day. It was always kind of a stress response.”
Now, searching PubMed for “chronic immune response syndrome” returns the following response: “Quoted phrase not found in phrase index: ‘chronic immune response syndrome.’” That’s not the type of response that you get when you plug in more widely accepted formal medical or scientific terms. This term has been advanced by those in integrative medicine. It’s still a bit of nebulous term. While scientific studies have identified many different situations where your immune system doesn’t work properly or even overreacts to various external stimuli, there doesn’t seem to be enough peer-reviewed well-constructed scientific studies yet to more clearly define what exactly “chronic immune response syndrome” is or how such a condition should be best managed. So for now, file “chronic immune response syndrome” in the “need more scientific studies to define and characterize” category.
Unfortunately, Toews may have a long road ahead of him. It’s not clear yet how long different long Covid symptoms tend to persist. The long and the short of it is that many political leaders don’t seem to give a “puck” about long Covid. Instead, they seem to be trying to check out of the whole Covid-19 pandemic response thing and act as if the pandemic is over. Of course, no legitimate public health authority has actually declared the pandemic over yet. And what’s been seen with long Covid so far may be just the tip of the iceberg.