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Not all COVID-19 experiences are equal.
For some, the illness’s side effects can last for weeks or even months.
This group of severely affected individuals, referred to as “long haulers” by experts, is experiencing infection and lasting consequences. These maladies include shortness of breath, chest pain, fatigue, and other symptoms.
While there is only a general understanding of those who deal with prolonged coronavirus side-effects, there is enough data to see there is a problem, according to officials.
“Anecdotally, there’s no question that there are a considerable number of individuals who have a postviral syndrome that really, in many respects, can incapacitate them for weeks and weeks following so-called recovery and clearing of the virus,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a July COVID-19 webinar.
Coronavirus Long Haulers
Despite there being little data about lasting coronavirus symptoms, cases around the world are piling up.
Roughly 10% of coronavirus patients have a “long haul” experience, according to a UK research report, “Management of Post-Acute COVID-19 in Primary Care.”
The study—using data collected from the UK COVID Symptom Study’s smartphone app—showed that some could experience lasting symptoms for up to three weeks. A smaller number can feel very unwell for months.
“As far as recovery goes, it has now taken a full seven to eight weeks to start feeling close to my normal self again,” the participant writes. “In the aftermath of this, I have continued to experience the following: fatigued to the point of having to sleep in the day, inability to exercise continued shortness of breath both motionless and when exerting, small waves of anxiety, considerable depression, continued loss of smell.
“These are all post-symptoms that I have had no experience or medical history with, and so it has been difficult to wrestle with the unexpectedness of them.”
Moreover, the numbers get worse, depending on the country in question.
For example, in Italy, recent data shows that 125 of 143 Italian adults faced coronavirus symptoms for an average of two months.
Historically speaking, this kind of lasting illness should not be shocking to healthcare officials, as the last coronavirus-related illness showed similar traits. In Hong Kong, one of the areas most harmed by the 2003 SARS virus, some experienced harmful symptoms for over two years.
Still, no virus is the same, and the impacts of long-term coronavirus symptoms are harming people every day.
“Until there is more research that helps us to understand why these long-term symptoms are happening and how to treat them, thousands of long haulers will continue to suffer at home,” Natalie Lambert, an associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said in a recent news release. “Both from painful COVID-19 symptoms and uncertainty about when they will feel well again.”
Long Haulers in the Latino Community
While there is not much racial/ethnic data about long haulers yet, Latinos and other disadvantaged individuals are carrying the heaviest burden of most COVID-19 impacts — especially those causing the most harm.
Using that understanding, it is likely that people of color also are experiencing coronavirus symptoms longer than their white peers.
- Have higher rates of COVID-19 infection than their white peers
- Have higher rates of COVID-19 deaths than their white peers
- Have higher rates of poverty than their white peers
- Have less access to healthcare and insurance than their white peers
With long-haulers experiencing long-term complications from COVID-19 and needing ongoing medical care, “the ability to recover could be even harder for the nation’s 10.5 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants,” NPR’s Joseph Shapiro writes.
“Latinos are more likely to deal with a more severe illness from COVID-19 — and when they’re undocumented, they’re less likely to be able to get the medical care they need to address it,” Shapiro writes. “It’s hard to track how many undocumented immigrants get COVID-19. But they are high risk… Not only do they often lack health insurance, many live in crowded homes with multiple generations of families.”
What You Can Do
One of the nation’s best minds in infectious disease, Dr. Fauci, says a greater understanding of this specific virus is critical.
“When people get infected and get sick, and maybe are in bed for a few weeks,” he told MSNBC. “We’re starting to see that they do not recover as completely and as quickly as you would like. How long does it take you to get back to normal? That’s an open question. We’re only six months into the outbreak.”
While most cannot help the drive toward a cure, all can make a difference.
One way to do this is by downloading the free Salud America! “Get Your City to Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis Action Pack”!
The Action Pack will help you gain feedback from local social justice groups and advocates of color. It will also help you start a conversation with city leaders for a resolution to declare racism a public health issue along with a commitment to take action to change policies and practices. It will also help build local support.
Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio, created this Action Pack with input from several San Antonio-area social justice advocates.