Doctors see progress in fight against long-haul COVID

NOW: Doctors see progress in fight against long-haul COVID

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- While many of us are excited for a COVID-19 vaccine and a return to normal life, thousands of long-haul COVID sufferers fear that their health will never return to normal. But doctors are seeing some signs of hope.

Dr. Julie Biller leads the dedicated long-haul COVID clinic at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

She says while COVID-19 cases have come down from their peak, the long-haul clinics keep admitting new patients.

“I think we’re up to about 350 and we will get about eight referrals a day,” she said. 

According to the CDC, the most common long-term effects of COVID-19 are:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain

But long-haulers suffer a number of other symptoms, like depression and brain fog. Dr. Biller calls it a “life-changing infection.”

The lasting effects of long-haul COVID are believed to have contributed to the suicide of Kent Taylor, founder of Texas Roadhouse restaurants.

“They feel like their bodies are not what their bodies used to be,” Dr. Biller said, “They feel like different people.” 

Researchers are still trying to solve the mystery of why mild cases of COVID-19 sometimes turn into life-altering long-haul cases.

“I would say at least 80-percent, maybe even 90-percent of the people we’re seeing in the clinic were never in the hospital,” Dr. Biller said. 

Some research on long-haul is starting to come out. Dr. Neha Shah says her work to treat patients with pulmonary fibrosis led her to a potential treatment for long-haul COVID.

"Because a lot of the symptoms of COVID overlap with those of pulmonary fibrosis, we thought it was logical to test these enzymes in patients with COVID-19 disease.” Dr. Shah said. 

Shah says a combination of systemic enzyme supplements and probiotics shows promise in reducing symptoms like inflammation, swelling, and coughing.

“Ninety-three-point-three percent of patients who were receiving the supplements showed clinical improvement on day ten, versus only 60-percent of patients in the control group,” she said. 

These are over-the-counter supplements, all-natural, and commonly available. Here’s an example of the exact products Dr. Shah says were used in the study. A number of companies make these supplements, and Dr. Shah does not profit or financially benefit from the sale of these supplements. 

Shah says the study participants took two capsules of ImmunoSEB two times a day on an empty stomach, with 8-12 ounces of water, and two capsules of ProbioSEB CSC3 once a day with food. It is very important to talk to your doctor before taking any new supplements. 

Dr. Biller cautions against letting one small study give people false hope.

“There are about 12-million people who have had the COVID infection in India and they just did a study on 60 people,” she said. 

Even Dr. Shah says more research is necessary.

“The results of my case series are promising, but larger placebo control trials will be needed,” she said. 

Another source of hope is the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Biller is one of many doctors who is seeing long-haulers show improvement after getting fully vaccinated.

There is no cure for long-haul COVID, but doctors and scientists all over the world are working to make sure it is not a lasting legacy of the pandemic.

“It is understood to be a major issue to the point that the NIH released a request of regrant applications a few weeks ago, and they told us they are earmarking $1.5B into research,” Dr. Biller said.

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