Doctors say people who had mild COVID-19 symptoms could end up being a ‘COVID-19 long-hauler’

NOW: Doctors say people who had mild COVID-19 symptoms could end up being a ‘COVID-19 long-hauler’

WAUWATOSA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Doctors are continuing to do research on what’s called “long COVID” or “long-haul COVID.” Long COVID refers to patients who had COVID-19 but are not recovering several weeks to months after they first got sick.

Long COVID symptoms can vary from fatigue and brain fog, to more serious issues affecting the lungs, brain and heart. Doctors still don’t know exactly why this is happening.

“I would say it’s a little bit surprising, you know most other infectious conditions don’t have that sort of post-infectious sequela,” said Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control at UW Health.

Doctors say long COVID is alarming and it’s something they’re urgently studying.

“They do think that a lot of these symptoms are related to excessive inflammation in the body,” said Dr. Julie Biller, post-COVID multispecialty clinic lead for Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin.

The severity of illness when a person first had COVID-19 doesn’t matter. Even if you’re young, healthy and only had mild symptoms, doctors say you could still be a “COVID long-hauler.”

“There’s no virus still present, it’s long left the body, but yet these symptoms are still occurring,” said Dr. Safdar.

Long COVID is happening right here in our backyard, so much so that Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin put together a clinic to treat various symptoms.

“I’ve seen probably close to 20 patients already, even before we opened the clinic,” Dr. Biller says.

The clinic opened Thursday, Jan. 28, and offers various therapies on a case-by-case basis, spanning from medication to rehabilitation for people experiencing psychological symptoms.

“Clinical symptoms that were debilitating and reduced their quality of life and really impaired normal functioning of everyday activities— that was the decision to open up this clinic,” Dr. Biller adds.

Doctors say the only way people who’ve had COVID-19 know they have long COVID is if they experienced the symptoms.

“Being in a brain fog, which appears to be very common, and there are mental health situations that occur,” says Dr. Safdar.

“They’ll have shortness of breath, chest pain and a lot of times they complain about burning when they breathe,” Dr. Biller said.

Dr. Biller says a medical study published in The Lancet this month found 76-percent of Wuhan COVID-19 patients were still experiencing at least one symptom six months after diagnosis, with the prominent symptom being weakness and fatigue.

“There’s a lot of research labs that are looking at what is going on in the body during COVID infections, so while there are things that we know, there is still a lot that we don’t know,” she said.

“The numbers of patients with long COVID are in all likelihood much higher than has been recognized so far,” Dr. Safdar says.

Doctors say for the vast majority of people, symptoms will eventually go away, but to help alleviate minor long COVID symptoms, doctors say meditation, good nutrition, rest and hydration are important.

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