As we get closer to widespread distribution of the COVID vaccine, medical officials are urging people who are on the fence about getting vaccinated to consider this: in the last 10 months, doctors have discovered that the virus greatly affects some people long after their body has seemingly defeated it.
those patients are called long haulers. People who get COVID, and then never really get better, even though they test negative. What’s most unsettling is there doesn’t seem to be a clear rhyme or reason why this happens to some people. And it appears it can happen to anyone-even if you’re young and healthy.
Carrianne Ekberg got COVID back in March. "I was initially very sick; I couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks. The fatigue, the muscle aches, the tightness in my chest. The shortness of breath was really bad."
She never needed to be hospitalized, so while her case wasn’t considered severe, there was something alarming about it. "It just kept going, it never went away and I started to call my primary care doctor after six weeks and I said this doesn’t seem normal. My initial doctor said it’s probably just anxiety, you’re fine."
We’ve heard from numerous people struggling with COVID symptoms months after recovering who say they too were just diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Now, 10 months into the pandemic, doctors are realizing it’s not that simple.
"What has been coming out with COVID patients is its not just that you get a respiratory infection and you get better and its done, what’s coming out is you get the infection and a lot of people have other areas that are affected," says Dr. Aaron Bunnell. Dr. Bunnell is running UW Medicine’s virtual clinic addressing recovered COVID patients-still experiencing prolonged symptoms. "The recovery is often much longer and there may be other complications to that recovery."
Some studies estimate 1 in 3 COV survivors have lingering symptoms. UW medicine researchers are involved in a multi-million dollar study on the long-term effects the virus can have, as it’s still largely a medical mystery.
10 months in, Ekberg says she’s finally starting to find doctors who are invested in helping her. "So many doctors were like we don’t know what it is; we can't help you-move onto the next. That was probably the hardest and most frustrating thing."
"I've changed my mindset and shifted from trying to figure out what’s wrong and trying to diagnose it, to okay this is chronic now and how do I live with it until it goes away?"
COVID has drastically altered her life. Before she says she was very active, an avid runner. Now she constantly struggles with shortness of breath and tightness in her chest. "I think that is mentally debilitating and physically rehabilitating, to try to get through that and hope that in a few months it will go away."
Ekberg says she’s really hoping to see a medical facility open up locally that would be a one stop shop for COVID long-haulers to help assess their issues and cure them. UW’s COVID tele-clinic, though virtual, helps connect patients with various specialists. Officials tell us the UW clinic is seeing a substantial increase in patients experiencing long-term issues.