New studies show that patients who suffered from the COVID-19 virus may have symptoms that last far beyond the end of the initial virus. Those who experience what’s been called “post-Covid syndrome,” which includes symptoms like brain fog and fatigue, are being termed “long haulers.” Mayo clinic occupational medicine specialist Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn recently reported to CNBC that long-haulers could see lingering COVID-19 effects for a year or longer after recovering from the virus.
The phenomenon is similar, Vanichkachorn said, to the long recovery period experienced by some patients infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). SARS, a respiratory virus that resembles COVID 19, created an epidemic in 2003. Although SARS long-haulers have since recovered, Vanichkachorn stressed that the healing period was long and strenuous, and some patients needed even longer than a year to go back to normal.
The medical community is still unclear about a lot of things concerning the novel COVID-19 virus, including the reasons why only certain patients become long-haulers. There’s still no way of knowing how many patients will recover immediately and how many will go on to experience long-term symptoms, but Vanichkachorn stressed that the latter situation is certainly “not rare.”
Vanichkachorn works at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota where he has developed a COVID-19 rehabilitation program with his colleagues. The clinic has so far welcomed more than 100 patients who are experiencing symptoms well beyond their initial recovery of the virus.
“I can’t say there’s a genetic basis for the differences in the outcomes,” Vanichkachorn said. “We, of course, have seen patients who have had more severe cases of Covid, like those patients being in the ICU or the hospital or patients of advanced age, being more likely to come down with post-Covid syndrome.”
Vanichkachorn also noted, though, that the hospitalized or elderly patients actually do not make up the large portion of patients in their clinic. He describes it as “startling” that many patients they see are younger, in good health, and physically fit. “So unfortunately,” he said, “it does seem like this is something anybody can come down with after their infection.”
Being young and having no pre-existing conditions does not make people immune to post-covid effects like short-term memory loss, concentration issues, and shortness of breath. Topping all of those, though, is extreme, debilitating fatigue. According to Vanichkachorn, the fatigue “is not ust like any fatigue, like the fatigue we get from a bad night of sleep but rather profound fatigue.” Patients have reported that simple tasks such as walking the dog, climbing the stairs, or cooking a meal are enough to spark several hours of recovery time.
Because many people have recovered quickly from COVID-19, those with post-covid symptoms are often singled out as being “dramatic.” However, Vanichkachorn says those experiencing symptoms for several months are likely long haulers and should not be pressured to “do too much too quickly.” In order not to prolong recovery even more, it’s imperative that they pay attention to their body, get the rest they need, and slowly get back to their normal activities.