What you need to know about 'long-haul COVID'

When we think of COVID-19 (as if we could ever stop thinking of it, even for a minute), we tend to envision one of three scenarios should we, or anyone we know, come down with the virus. Either we'd test positive but remain asymptomatic (though at least we'd know enough to stay home), we'd become ill but recover after a week or so, or... well, we certainly hope the worst outcome does not befall any of us or our loved ones, although the Center for Disease Control and Prevention does report that over 200,000 of somebody's nearest and dearests have lost their lives to the pandemic.

Healthline, however, reports that there is yet another possible outcome of a COVID diagnosis that we all need to be aware of. They're calling it "long-haul" COVID, which refers to the fact that some sufferers may take many months to recover from their virus symptoms.

What does 'long haul' COVID look like?

The World Health Organization says that most COVID patients will recover within two to six weeks, but if there's one thing we know about this virus, it's that it refuses to play by the WHO's rules. Dr. Scott Krakower, unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, NY, tested positive for COVID-19 back in April, but he tells Healthline that it took at least four months before he felt more or less normal again, and he still has some symptoms such as coughing that are still lingering.

Communications specialist Elissa Miolene had a somewhat different story as regards her COVID case. She came down with the virus in March, but her case seemed fairly mild, and her doctor told her she'd just need to self-quarantine for a few weeks and she'd be fine. (Miolene, age 27, was not in what was considered a high-risk group at the time.) She stayed inside for a month and was, in fact, feeling much better after that time, but later developed chest and back pains. Six months down the road, Miolene tests as virus-free, but she's still experiencing extreme fatigue as well as still suffering chest and back pains. As she describes her ordeal, "It's changed my life. Every morning, it's something that I wake up with and have to deal with and get through the day with."

What does the existence of 'long haul' COVID mean for all of us?

Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency department physician at NYC's Lenox Hill Hospital, told Healthline that the existence of "long haul" COVID is something medical science really needs to pay attention to, spending the necessary time and research dollars to develop a treatment plan since, as he speculates, "The wave is coming." He adds that this "wave" is likely to have a far-reaching effect due to "all the people that won't be able to perform their jobs," noting that "some of [them will] need to be in subacute rehab settings to convalesce."

Glatter says many lingering or recurring COVID symptoms might be caused by the virus' effect on the autonomous nervous system, and says that COVID-19 may be a factor in patients being increasingly at risk of blood clots, heart and lung damage, and other complications resulting in chronic illness. What is most vital when it comes to "long haul" COVID, is for medical practitioners — and the rest of us — to realize that this is very real and very concerning. Glatter admits that early on in the pandemic some healthcare providers would tell patients whose symptoms lingered even after they tested negative that these symptoms were likely imaginary. He wants to spread the word that "long-haul" COVID is "not in your head. It's real, and I think the time is now to address this and try to do what we can do to help people."