Amarillo health experts explain the term COVID-19 ‘long haulers’

What are COVID-19 'long haulers'?

AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - With over a year into the pandemic, there is still so much unknown about the possible long-term effects of the coronavirus.

After weeks or even months of recovering from COVID-19, some individuals are now seeing lingering or reemerging symptoms.

In basic terms, Harvard Medical School defines individuals with post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, or PASC, most commonly referred to as COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ as those who experience a variety of coronavirus symptoms long after they have recovered from the initial illness.

In basic terms, COVID long haulers are people who have not fully recovered from COVID-19 weeks or even months after first experiencing symptoms.
In basic terms, COVID long haulers are people who have not fully recovered from COVID-19 weeks or even months after first experiencing symptoms. (Source: Harvard Medical School)

“A COVID ‘long hauler’, the definition is still in flux but, if you have symptoms for weeks or months, probably three months or more of symptoms after COVID infection, that’s gonna be a COVID ‘long hauler’. Post-acute sequelae of COVID, PASC, is the term we’re coming up with. PASC is a term that we’re trying to define. What exactly is this, is 4 months long enough, what symptoms are we looking for?,” said Dr. Whit Walker M.D., Texas Tech Physicians Internal Medicine physician.

“I’m certain there are still individuals who contracted COVID and still have symptoms that would be within the realm of what we could call a ‘long hauler’,” said Dr. Scott Milton M.D., Texas Tech Physicians Infectious Disease specialist.

Though so much is still unknown about this condition, for some patients, this could mean continuous symptoms, while others feel better for weeks or even months then relapse with old or new symptoms.

“It’s a little bit similar to stroke. Somebody that had a stroke and had a weak right arm a year ago, if they develop a urinary tract infection or they become ill or they’re tired or fatigued, they can develop those same symptoms of a stroke in the same distribution. Something may be kicking off a Post-acute sequela of COVID, PASC,” said Dr. Walker. “There are many factors that seem to be involved, we don’t know all the factors yet.”

“There’s a fair number of people that just don’t feel good after they get it. You would think they’d have recovered, and months later they feel miserable, and they don’t feel like being active, they may have headaches, they have lots of symptoms that are kind of broad so it’s more common than you would think,” said Dr. Milton.

Some common symptoms among ‘long haulers’ include brain fog, fatigue, loss of smell, altered taste or sleep disorders but more serious symptoms could be anxiety and depression.

And based on what is known, people who initially had mild symptoms of COVID-19 are more likely to develop PASC. Additionally, according to local doctors, these individuals have little to no probabilities of spreading the virus.

However, there may a way to prevent or treat this condition

“I recommend the vaccine. There is some evidence that people who are ‘long haulers’ who go get the vaccine do better,” said Dr. Walker.

There is still so much unknown about COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ and in an effort to learn more, in February, the National Institutes of Health announced a $1.15 billion initiative to support research.

And Texas Tech Health Sciences Center is currently in the process of beginning a study of their own.

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