Long Haulers: The After Effects of Coronavirus

Lucy Lazarony
November 4, 2020

If you had the coronavirus infection and the virus can no longer be detected in your body but you are still experiencing debilitating symptoms, you’re a long hauler. Tens of thousands of people in the United States are experiencing lingering illnesses after the coronavirus. Surveys of patient groups show that 50 to 80 percent of patients continue to have symptoms three months after the onset of COVID-19. And this is after tests no longer detect the COVID-19 virus in the patients’ bodies. What are the lingering symptoms of long haulers? The most common are body aches, fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, inability to exercise, difficulty sleeping and headache, according to the Harvard Health blog. And University California Davis Health adds joint pain, loss of taste and smell and brain fog to the list of common symptoms for long haulers. With brain fog, patients become unusually forgetful, confused or unable to concentrate. Who are the long haulers? COVID-19 continued symptoms are more likely to occur in people over 50, people with two or three chronic illnesses and people who become very ill with COVID-19, according to Harvard Health. But University of California Davis Health reports that long haulers are affecting every type of COVID patient. There are long haulers who had mild symptoms and recovered at home. There are long haulers who were completely healthy before COVID-19 and there are long haulers that are young and long haulers that are old. How many long haulers are there? The Journal of the American Medical Association and a study from a team of British scientists estimate that about 10 percent of COVID-19 patients become long haulers. If you are a long hauler and don’t have health insurance, make sure to buy it this year so you can get the treatment you need. Begin by entering your zip code below.

Theories About Long Haulers

There are different theories as to the cause of long haul symptoms of COVID-19. One theory states the COVID-19 virus remains in long haulers’ bodies in some small form. Another theory states that long haulers’ immune symptoms continue to overreact even after the COVID-19 infection has passed.

Other theories suggest a low level of inflammation to the brain or a decreased blood flow to the brain. A recent study reveals that some COVID-19 patients are producing molecules that target genetic material from their own human cells instead of targeting the COVID-19 virus. This misguided immune response may be why long haulers are having lingering problems.

Another study found that patients who experience more than five COVID-19 symptoms during their first week of illness are more likely to be a long haul case. Certain COVID-19 symptoms were found to be early signs that a patient might not recover quickly from the illness. These symptoms include fatigue, headache, difficulty breathing, a hoarse voice and muscle and body aches.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, has speculated that long haul COVID-19 might be a form of a chronic fatigue syndrome.

Testing for Long Haulers

The vast majority of long haulers test negative for COVID-19. And there is no specific test to give them for their lasting symptoms.

Support for Long Haulers

There are two long haul COVID-19 fighters facebook groups. The groups have more than 8,000 members. So you don’t have to go through the lingering effects of COVID-19 all on your own. Others are out there and offering support. And doctors are beginning to learn about long hauler syndrome.

What Is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 affects people in different ways with some people experiencing mild symptoms and other people experiencing severe illness. Long haulers experience symptoms months after their initial diagnosis.

How COVID-19 Spreads

There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Here is how the virus spreads, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The virus spreads mainly from person to person. And this could be between people who are in close contact with one another, within six feet. It also can spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneeze or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Some recent studies suggest that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.

How to Lower Your COVID-19 Risk

There are more than seven million Americans who have become infected with COVID-19. The CDC offers these tips for preventing the spread of COVID-19 virus.

Clean your hands often, either with soap and water for 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Washing your hands often is especially important after visiting a public place, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

Wash hands before eating or preparing food, before touching your face and after handling your mask.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Put a distance between yourself and other people, at least six feet. Six feet is about two arms’ length. Remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus.

Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when you are around others. Masks may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others. The mask is meant to protect other people in case you are infected. It can also protect you. Everyone should wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household. Wearing a mask is especially important when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces daily. These surfaces include tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.

How to Monitor Your Health

Here are tips for monitoring your health during the COVID-19 pandemic, also from the CDC.

Be alert for symptoms of COVID-19 such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea. COVID-19 symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

Monitor your temperature. Fever is one of the warning signs of COVID-19. But don’t take your temperature within 30 minutes of exercising or after taking medications that could lower your temperature such as acetaminophen.

Here are some emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If any of these signs appear, seek emergency medical help immediately.

These emergency warning signs include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, bluish lips or face.

What to Do If You Think You Have COVID-19

If you are sick with COVID-19 or think you might have COVID-19 follow these steps from the CDC to protect other people in your home and in your community.

The first thing to do is to stay home. Most people with COVID-19 have a mild illness and can recover at home without medical care. Do not leave your home, except to get medical care. Do not visit public places.

Take good care of yourself. Get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. Take over-the-counter medicines to make yourself feel better. Stay in touch with your doctor. Be sure to get care if you are having trouble breathing or have any other emergency warning signs. Avoid public transportation, ride-sharing and taxis.

Separate yourself from other people. As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from other people. If you need to be around other people wear a mask.

Tell your close contacts that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. An infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours or two days before the person has any symptoms or tests positive. So let your close contacts know that they may have been exposed to the virus. By doing so, you are helping to protect everyone.

Avoid sharing personal household items. Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels or bedding with other people in your home. Wash these items thoroughly with soap and water or put in the dishwasher.

Clean and disinfect high touch surfaces in your sick room and your bathroom. High-touch surfaces include phones, remote controls, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables. Wear rubber gloves. Clean your own bedroom and bathroom if possible.

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