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COVID LONG HAULERS: For many, COVID symptoms don’t subside after a couple of weeks

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- High fever. Shortness of breath. Loss of taste and smell. Body aches. By now, these common COVID-19 symptoms are quite recognizable. While most people who are infected with the virus typically have these symptoms last a couple of weeks, many COVID survivors deal with theses symptoms for much longer. It's a condition called Post COVID Syndrome.

"This condition has become more common, more understood," Mayo Clinic Occupational Medical Specialist Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn said.

Vanichkachorn estimates that ten to 30 percent of COVID infections can result with patients struggling with difficult symptoms for weeks, to months after their initial diagnosis. Some, even longer.

"I do have several patients who are a year or more out from their acute infection," he said. "It looks like COVID long haul could be a chronic illness for folks and be their new baseline."

Since June of 2020, Vanichkachorn has helped treat 300 to 400 COVID "long hauler" patients at Mayo Clinic's "COVID Rehabilitation Program." Since then, the hospital has expanded the program, and added another program called "Post COVID Care Play," which too, has treated several hundred patients.

Just like COVID 19, the symptoms and severity of Post COVID Syndrome can vary.

"Some folks have minimal symptoms," Vanichkachorn said. "On going shortness of breath, which is something that can occur after a Coronavirus infection. Some can have a little brain fog. Some are more severe. Shortness of breath where they need to remain on oxygen. Or they are not able to do some of the basic activities of life, like walk across their home to take a shower and so forth. So, we do see a variety in severities."

Twin Cities EMT, Brianne Bernini was on the mild side. She remembers the moment she lost her taste and smell.

"I was drinking coffee, and in the middle of it, the taste and smell were gone," she said.

Bernini was diagnosed with the virus late November. She just got most of her taste and smell back early this year.

"I have it somewhat back," she said. "But I can't smell certain scents. Some of my favorite smells are completely disgusting to me."

Health experts emphasize that the best way to avoid being a COVID "long hauler" is to not get COVID.

"In my opinion, the risk of getting COVID 19, far outweighs the risk that the COVID 19 vaccine poses," Vanichkachorn said.

Bernini agrees, adding that she sees people come into the Emergency Room with long term COVID symptoms or with issues related to COVID.

"I will tell you," she said. "I would rather have the vaccine and have one day feeling like crud, than going through the whole process again."

Post COVID Syndrome is a condition that health experts continue to research and learn more about as the pandemic progresses. Vanichkachorn wants to give patients currently struggling hope. He believes with current clinical trials, better treatments will become available.

"Things can get better in the near future," he said. "Don't be afraid to get treatment. Don't be afraid to advocate for yourself."

Experts also have noticed Post COVID Syndrome start to rise in children as well. However, children often times are not able to communicate their medical needs, causing difficulties in treatment.

Beret Leone

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