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About 10 percent of people who had COVID many months ago continue to battle symptoms

Posted at 4:08 PM, Dec 29, 2020

Shayna Zweiback is living with post-acute COVID syndrome. She says she was diagnosed with COVID-19 this past March and still has symptoms today. People in her situation have also been referred to as long haulers.

“What we're finding is that there is a small percentage of those who have acute COVID who have persistent symptoms that are similar to their acute illness or different,” Dr. Dayna McCarthy said.

Dr. Dayna McCarthy has been studying Post-Acute COVID Syndrome at Mount Sinai Health System.

“The individuals who are suffering this fall in between the ages of 20 to 40 mostly, on average, and they were individuals who did not require hospitalization during the acute illness,” McCarthy said.

Zweiback has been dealing with symptoms for ten months. She says the worst of it was in March and April.

“Then May, I was still sick but not bed-ridden, and then June and July, it started feeling like I was actually on the other side of things, but then when August came, the old symptoms were back with a new slew of symptoms that I hadn’t experienced before so the ones that came about in that second wave of specs for me were the brain fog that everyone was talking for me – which for me was very heavy memory loss,” Zweiback said.

Before COVID, Zweiback was very active. She says she would commute five miles to work in Manhattan every day. However, ever since getting the virus, she’s been dealing with extreme fatigue.

“It’s hard when a walk down the block is like running a marathon for you,” Zweiback said.

Actually, COVID has brought on a whole slew of new problems for her.

“I was diagnosed with POTS a couple of months ago which is a cardiac disorder where my heart rate isn’t regulating my blood flow, so my heart rate is so high when I stand up or walk or even roll over in bed when I’m sleeping that the blood isn’t making it to my brain fast enough which causes things like dizziness, heart racing, nausea, a lot of the brain fog," Zweiback said.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic medicine to get rid of post-acute COVID syndrome. McCarthy says the best thing for these long haulers, is sleep.

“They’re consuming so much energy just by being awake," McCarthy said. "So it’s like you put a key in the ignition of a car, when the engine is running smoothly you’re not using any gas or oil, right? You use very minimal because it’s so efficient. And so now when you put your foot on the gas to get where you need to go, you can go for miles. But now, the engine, that nervous system is not functioning appropriately. You go put that key in and it’s devouring gasoline and it’s devouring oil. And when you go to do the things you want to do, you put your foot on the gas pedal, you got 10 miles and you’re done. And that 10 miles could mean a zoom meeting for work, it could mean a walk to get the groceries, I mean it’s that severe in some cases. And then your energy is consumed and you have nothing left. And once you do that those symptoms can get worse.”

According to McCarthy, about 10% of people who catch COVID develop the syndrome.

“Percentwise yes, that’s small, but if you think of how many people in the country are infected with COVID, that’s actually a huge number,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy says so much research is still needed to understand the full impact of post-acute COVID syndrome. But there’s an understanding that the syndrome could be a result of a revved-up immune system. Nonetheless, McCarthy says some people have recovered about 95% and there’s hope they will fully recover.

“I’m confident that the amazing work that all these doctors and nurses are putting into this will get me back to where I was, but I’m also trying to keep realistic expectations about it, and just understand that normal for a long time might look different to me,” Zweiback said.

In the meantime, both Zweiback and McCarthy agree people need to continue wearing masks so fewer people experience post-scute COVID syndrome.

“You don’t want to be one of these patients, it’s just not fun," McCarthy said. "So to young patients everywhere who still think this is an illness that only affects older people, that is certainly not the truth.”