Concern over so-called “Long Haulers;” prevention is best medicine
They battled and beat COVID-19. They endured the acute symptoms of fever, shortness of breath and coughing – even loss of taste and smell – and overcame. But some survivors are still struggling with significant ongoing side effects.
With physicians now knowing the virus can affect more than the respiratory system – causing inflammation and blood clots across multiple organs – they also are noticing ongoing health problems in some COVID-19 patients, especially those who are most at risk for contracting virus – older people and those with serious medical conditions.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey reveals the impact for the people whose symptoms lingered.
- 43% said they had a cough
- 35% felt tired
- 29% had shortness of breath
By comparison, more than 90% of people with the flu recover fully within two weeks of having a positive test result.
Physician partners with Be Safe Wisconsin share what COVID-19 survivors should watch for beyond their window of recovery and why it is so important to avoid this coronavirus altogether.
FROM SURVIVOR TO LONG-HAULER
Most people who have COVID-19 typically recover completely, but some survivors continue to experience symptoms long after they test negative for the virus. Medical researchers have dubbed the people in this latter group “long-haulers.”
According to the CDC, the most common signs and symptoms that can linger include:
- Shortness of breath
- Joint Pain
Other survivors – even those with a minor case of COVID – experience hair loss and brain fog.
“We’re seeing evidence that some of the long-term impacts can occur in patients who experience mild acute symptoms of COVID-19,” says Jennifer Frank, MD, Chief Medical Officer, ThedaCare. “That’s what’s difficult about understanding the course of this virus. It impacts different people in different ways.”
Research has shown links to heart, lung and brain complications in patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Complications can include pneumonia, respiratory failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome, cardiac injury (heart attack/stroke), multiple organ failure, worsening of chronic medical conditions involving the lungs, heart or nervous system (diabetes/high blood pressure), inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues (encephalitis). Who is most likely to experience long-term damage to their lungs, heart and brain?
“The typical patients who would be expected to have these persistent symptoms would be those who were intubated and on the ventilator for several weeks and those with multiple comorbidities, older age, and some form of immunocompromised status or even those who already have difficulty with activities of daily living,” says Anthony Zeimet, DO, Infectious Diseases Specialist, Ascension Medical Group, practicing in Appleton.
Research is pointing to the lungs as the organ that could endure the longest lasting damage. Dr. Zeimet explains, “This damage done to the lungs could result in the need for chronic oxygen therapy. In addition, some lung tissue may be chronically destroyed and non-functioning and that could potentially lead to the development of other illnesses.”
The evidence of lingering side effects might bust the thought that contracting and beating COVID-19 boosts your immune system, keeping you safe from exposure to other illnesses.
“There might be some boost in combating other coronaviruses which cause the common cold,” adds Dr. Zeimet, “however, the common cold is caused by more mild coronaviruses.”
Physicians concur there is still much to be learned about COVID-19, noting it will be a few years before the long-term ramifications of the illness and outcomes are determined for those who survived it.
PREVENTING THE LONG-HAUL IMPACT
Until then, the best medicine to stay safe and protect yourself and your loved ones against COVID-19 is to –
- Wear a mask whenever in a public setting.
- Watch your distance, practicing physical distancing.
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid unnecessary physical touching.
- Clean and disinfect common surfaces.
- Avoid people who are sick.
- Stay away from others when sick.
“We want to help everyone stay as healthy as possible to avoid contracting COVID-19 and possibly experiencing the long-term effects caused by the virus,” Dr. Frank says.