Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen
COVID-19 has changed lives the world over, bringing a death toll of well beyond six figures and discernible shifts in numerous sectors of society. From government-enforced lockdowns to a hefty stock market crash to wave after wave of partial or false information, some of the most powerful nations found themselves struggling to keep abreast of the crises as they stacked up. The one thing that has kept many people from collapse is the collective, dogged belief that the situation would improve.
For some individuals, even that chance is seeming unlikely. Certain patients with COVID-19 have found themselves with symptoms that persist well beyond the usual timespan for a symptomatic patient. Known as “long haulers,” these patients present a uniquely complex aspect of the virus’s effects which will require a new and different approach from clinicians.
Will I Be A Long Hauler?
From an objective point of view, no one is likely to become a long-hauler. COVID-19 has a lower virility than some seasonal infections and has so far displayed a high rate of recovery–it is estimated that well over 90 percent of symptomatic patients make a full recovery. Long haulers are only a small percentage of the already small percentage of symptomatic individuals, so you are unlikely to become one.
That said, it is worth mentioning that among those symptomatic patients, long-haul symptoms do not tend to adhere to the risk groups observed thus far; any symptomatic patient may struggle with lingering symptoms in the future, despite an otherwise full recovery.
Are Chronic and Acute Symptoms The Same?
Due to the relatively short window of time in which the world has been studying COVID-19, the symptoms are less clear-cut than many other diseases, and researchers often have trouble pinning down whether or not the novel coronavirus is behind the symptoms or if there is another disease at work. As a rule, long-haul symptoms are not as widely spread throughout the body; most long-haulers suffer symptoms in organs damaged by the virus, including the respiratory tract, joints, and sensory organs or perception.
Treatment For COVID Long Haulers
Treatment options for long-haul patients are also limited by the amount of time the virus has been studied; the phenomenon of long-haul patients was only noticed some time after the virus had first become the center of the medical world’s attention, and the medical world has not yet had the opportunity to properly study the condition. Current treatment addresses the symptoms more than the cause, such as pain medication or medication against the fatigue that many such patients experience. Solidarity and support groups have also been created to ensure that whatever a long-haul patient is going through, they do not face it alone.
As one country after another takes cautiously optimistic steps towards the development of vaccines, cures, or more precise early detection models, it seems to indicate that we may soon leave COVID-19 behind us. Some patients, though, will require care well into the future, and the medical community must take steps to ensure that it is available.