COVID-19 long haulers still suffering months after diagnosis

covid brain impact
Posted at 4:47 PM, Nov 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-25 16:47:22-05

CLEVELAND — It might start with something as simple as a cough, or a stuffy nose. But some people diagnosed with COVID-19 find themselves still dealing with far more serious symptoms, months later.

Taquita Brown was a sophomore studying nursing at Cuyahoga Community College when she started getting headaches. She found out she had COVID-19, and her symptoms got worse.

The headaches became so severe, "it was making my vision get blurry,” she told News 5. It affected her ability to read or focus on her studies. The mother of two was forced to take a break from school. That was in August of 2020.

Now, in November 2021, “my taste and smell is still abnormal,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t even have an appetite because food don’t be tasting right.” She still gets headaches too, something that never happened before she got COVID-19. We spoke with MetroHealth Rheumatologist Dr. Elisheva Weinberger about how doctors define these so-called Long Haulers.

“We use ‘long hauler’ for people who are having persistent symptoms after their acute infections,” she said. The formal diagnosis is Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection, or PASC. That means a patient is still suffering symptoms 12 weeks after the initial, acute infection. And the doctor said there are myriad symptoms to watch out for. The most common are fatigue, brain fog including trouble concentrating, confusion and memory loss, and shortness of breath, and gastrointestinal problems. But some patients can also experience chest pains and heart palpitations.

“A lot of people really do feel alone, and they feel like people don’t understand what they’re going through and don’t understand their struggles and don’t believe them when they say, you know, that they can barely get through a day without napping four hours that day,” she said.

There are some risk factors associated with your chances of getting PASC. If you have a more severe acute infection, one that requires hospitalization, you’re more likely to have these long-term problems. Females are also more likely than males to experience long-term effects, as are those with a higher BMI, and those with more than five symptoms in the initial infection. If you’re dealing with these long-term effects of the virus, Weinberger told News 5, there’s help out there.

“You’re not alone,” she said. “There are a lot of people struggling with the same thing and know that we’re here to listen and we believe you.” Brown is hoping to be part of a solution. She’s part of a six-month pilot program designed to address the specific challenges our area’s African American community faces when living with Long COVID-19. ‘The Long Haul’ was funded by a grant from the COVID-19 Rapid Fund and kicks off with an event Saturday.

Brown told News 5 she hopes her story will convince everyone to take this virus seriously, get the help they need, and get vaccinated to protect themselves and their communities.

“A lot of people think this is a game like they don’t believe in this. I tell them it is real. It is real,” she said. “This disease is killing people.”

‘I Am a Survivor’ is scheduled for Saturday at the Pentecostal Church of Christ, 10515 Chester Ave., Cleveland. Doors open at 4:00 p.m., the event begins at 5:00 p.m. You can get a free ticket here.