Covid-19 Long-Haulers: Why Some People Continue To Suffer?

The majority of people with coronavirus have a mild or moderate disease and make a full recovery within 2–4 weeks. While most people with Covid-19 recover and return to normal health, some patients experience symptoms last for weeks or even months after recovery. In some cases, even people with mild illness have experienced persistent or late symptoms, increasing the risk of long-term health problems that these individuals may continue to face months after the initial infection.

Long haulers are individuals experiencing some symptom of Covid-19, twenty-eight days or later after they were first infected. Long haulers are patients that have recovered from the worst impacts of COVID-19. These patients have tested negative. However, they still have symptoms. There seems to be no consistent reason for this to happen.

Dr. Shoja from Urgent Care Hawaii states, “Fatigue is the most commonly reported long-term symptom. Other symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, joint pain, chest pain, brain fog, depression, muscle pain, headache, intermittent fever, and fast-beating or pounding heart or heart palpitations.”

Serious long-term complications could affect different organ systems in the body. These include:

· Cardiovascular: inflammation of the heart muscle

· Respiratory: Lung function abnormalities

· Renal: acute kidney injury

· Dermatologic: rash, hair loss

· Neurological: smell and taste problems, sleep issues, difficulty with concentration, memory problems

· Psychiatric: depression, anxiety, changes in mood

The long-term significance of these effects is not yet known.

Why are long haulers experiencing symptoms 28 days or after their recovery?

One theory states that long haulers continue to experience symptoms because the virus remains in their bodies, in some small form. Others theorize that the immune system of long haulers continues to overreact even after the infection has passed. However, these are still theories. Discoveries about the novel corona virus are emerging every day, and there is not a lot of information available about this situation. Most long haulers test negative for Covid-19. Healthcare practitioners are not sure what else to test for the lasting symptoms.

Will Covid-19 long haulers face permanent damage?

There is little information available to help healthcare practitioners know if long terms symptoms are permanent or if they will cause permanent damage.

In some cases, seriously ill patients have developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which can permanently scar their lungs. However, it remains unclear if long-haulers with respiratory issues not at the severe level of ARDS will experience scarring on their lungs.

Patients experiencing loss of smell and taste for a few months worry about this condition becoming permanent. However, experts believe that the loss of smell and taste will not be permanent. There is no clear answer on how long it will take for a resolution.

Healthcare professionals at hospitals and urgent care in Hawaii have been overwhelmed, trying to provide healthcare to the public. The new situation with long haulers needing significant attention is further pressing an already strained system.

With the State of Hawaii relaxing restrictions on inter-island travel and tourism, the demand for Covid-19 testing has been growing steadily. “Most appointments at our five sites are for testing. Two of our sites, our Urgent Care in Waikiki and Ko Olina, are dedicated to Covid-19 testing” states, Urgent Care Hawaii CEO Donna Schmidt in response to our question about the demand for Covid-19 testing in Hawaii.

While many health systems are starting to streamline care for long haul patients, it will take time to identify the cause and possible cure. More research is needed to explain why this infection can lead to prolonged symptoms in some people. The information we have is limited and changing.

What we do is that when a person gets infected with COVID-19, it starts an inflammatory response in the body, which can cause a chain of events with many different symptoms and outcomes. Since this virus emerged only a year ago, we do not have enough information to explain the long-term damage. In the future, we will be able to tell the full long-term effects that COVID-19 has on the kidneys, lungs, and heart, but we aren’t there yet.