'Lost in the fog': COVID survivors face hurdles

’Lost in the fog’: COVID survivors face hurdles

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- More and more survivors of COVID-19 are not done battling their disease, as a new study shows long-haul COVID might be a worse problem than once thought.

Aaron Olson isn’t sure how he got COVID-19 last October, but describes his time with the virus as pretty uneventful. “It really did feel like the flu for the most part,” he said.

But when Olson went back to work as a nurse at an assisted living facility, he found out his battle against COVID-19 wasn’t over. “Every time we went into a room and I was noticing shortness of breath,” Olson said.

Shortness of breath is just one of more than 50 long-term effects associated with post-COVID syndrome, also known as long-haul COVID.

The five most common are:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Attention disorder
  • Hair Loss
  • Shortness of Breath

Doctor Julie Biller, the lead for the post-COVID clinic at Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin, says these symptoms happen without warning. “We cannot look at somebody and say we think you're at high risk for developing persistent symptoms,” Biller said.

Post-COVID clinics are popping up across Wisconsin. Olson is getting treatment at a COVID-dedicated clinic at Prevea Health in Green Bay that opened officially in January.

In addition to breathing issues, Olson says he suffers from brain fog. ‘You know the biggest thing from day to day is remembering people's names.”

The inability to recall simple things hurt his ability to be a nurse. “Having a coworker come to me and ask me about a set of symptoms for a patient…. what would you order with this, and there was one piece of it that I wasn't remembering,” Olson said.

So after being a registered nurse for 20 years, Olson decided to quit his job. “You have to be able to function and when you're behind all those masks, and we have to do that, and if I'm short of breath I can't function at 100-percent, or even, you know, 70-percent.”

How widespread is post-COVID syndrome? That depends on who you ask, while some officials estimate that 10-percent of infected people suffer from aftereffects

A new study estimates that it is closer to 80-percent. 

Doctor Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer for UW-Madison Health, says there is no cure for post-COVID syndrome. While some symptoms go away in a couple of weeks, others linger for months, with no end in sight. “That's a big problem for those people, this really affects quality of life, doing what they want to do, being productive in society, it's really debilitating,” Pothof said.

Doctor Laura Nelson, chief medical officer for Prevea Health, says the battle against COVID-19 is a new one, and medical science will at some point win the war. “As the world learns more about COVID and we follow patients who have survived COVID, we're going to learn a lot more about what the long-term effects of COVID are.”

While COVID-19 changed Aaron Olson’s life, he is determined to not let lingering symptoms become a life sentence. “I’m not giving in… picking up skiing and things like that … so there's things that I'm doing to better my health,” he said.

The best way to not get long-haul COVID is simple, don’t get infected with COVID-19. If you were infected, and do experience any lingering symptoms, consult a doctor immediately.

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