Long Haulers: The Aftermath of Covid-19

By Ana Garcia

While working as a home health aide in Manhattan on April 12, 2020 Elsa Herrera noticed her patient’s son was coughing a lot. Even though her employer never told her he had Covid-19, she knew that she has to protect herself more by wearing a mask at all time. Unfortunately, it was too late.

Almost one year later, Herrera is still experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. She is not alone. A significant percentage of those who survived Covid-19 are facing long-term symptoms. “I feel that I do not have the energy from before,” says Herrera, who tested positive for Covid-19 on April 16, 2020. “It is like you are tired all the time, and your body asks for rest, no matter how long you rest.”

Long-haul Covid patients can have negative results after their quarantine time, but they continue facing some of the symptoms for months after. At six months, 76% of patients had at least one of the following symptoms: fatigue/muscle weakness (63%), difficulty sleeping (26%), hair loss (22%), difficulty with smell and taste (11 and 9%), and trouble with mobility (7%), according to the Covid-19 Real-Time Learning Network by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).

It’s been 11 months since Herrera contracted the virus. “I continue to struggle with my sense of smell and taste,” she says. “I barely can sleep, and when I go to the doctor, all the tests end with the good results.” Herrera struggles with her Covid symptoms at home with the help of doctors and her daughter, who is a physician. “I’m glad to have a daughter as a doctor,” Herrera says. “She always tells me, step by step, I will get better.”

One of the frustrations for those suffering long-haul symptoms is the lack of research on the causes or cures for the illness. “We are going to see more and more of the longer-term consequences come out, and we’re going to study those as vigorously as we did the acute symptoms, catalog them, understand them, and then critical trials figure out how best to treat them,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in an interview on the organization’s YouTube channel. Poland said further studies of the immunogenetics (study of the genetic basis and immune system) of the vaccine will hopefully provide more clues.

Long Covid-19 can affect anyone that has survived this virus, it does not matter the age. In a CDC survey of respondents aged 18–34 years who said they had no chronic medical conditions, 19% (nine of 48) said they had not returned to a normal state of health.

In response to these growing numbers of cases, Mount Sinai Hospital created the Center for Post-Covid Care. The Mount Sinai website says that it attempts to address the problem holistically and that returning to normal for long-haulers may require therapy – physical and occupation – along with other support.

Many Facebook groups were created to help long-haulers. Some are private because they want their members to feel safe while telling their stories. Other groups are open to the public, such as the Long Covid Support website, where you can search for information and read other people’s stories around the world.

In addition to the support of her daughter, Herrera says she is focusing on following the healthy lifestyle to prevent other health problems. She continues working as a home nurse. And she says, enjoying life. “I will enjoy every minute I have because we never know,” she said.

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