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Coronavirus patients who develop brain fog and fatigue after recovering from COVID-19 infections may find that their lingering symptoms last for more than a year, at least one physician studying “post-COVID syndrome” told CNBC on Wednesday.

In a telephone interview with the network, Dr. Greg Vanichkachorn, an occupational medicine specialist at the Mayo Clinic studying so-called “long haulers,” saidthat he would not be “too shocked” if the lengthy recovery trajectory for some long-term COVID-19 sufferers mirrored that of some severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, patients.

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Post-COVID care clinics

Vanichkachorn and his colleagues created a rehabilitation program for COVID-19 survivors, and he has personally treated more than 100 long-hauler patients, but analyzing the virus’s after effects remains elusive, he told the network.

For instance, Vanichkachorn acknowledged post-COIVD syndrome is “not something that is rare,” yet researchers have been unable to determine with any certainty what percentage of COVID-19 patients become long haulers.

“I can’t say there’s a genetic basis for the differences in the outcomes,” he told CNBC. “We, of course, have seen patients who have had more severe cases of COVID – like those patients being in the ICU or the hospital or patients of advanced age – being more likely to come down with post-COVID syndrome.”

According to the nonprofit SurvivorCorps, an organization for novel coronavirus survivors, 29 states have post-COVID care centers, New Hampshire Public Radio reported.

Extended recovery trajectory

Meanwhile, Vanichkachorn said long-hauler SARS patients during the 2003 epidemic often took more than one year to fully recover, so a similar recovery trajectory for post-COVID syndrome patients is not unrealistic.

The problem he and his colleagues are encountering, however, is that the unknowns about post-COVID syndrome far outweigh the knowns.

“I think one of the real startling things about this is that those kind of patients, hospitalized patients or the elderly, don’t make up the majority of the (post-COVID syndrome) patients we have been seeing,” Vanichkachorn told CNBC.

“In fact, many of the patients we are seeing are younger in age and are quite healthy and physically fit before their COVID infection. So, unfortunately, it does seem like this is something anybody can come down with after their infection,” he added.

Anybody – just like 59-year-old Jeff Lightizer of Plaistow, New Hampshire.

Lightizer told NHPR that he developed acute COVID-19 pneumonia over the summer and recovered from the lung infection fairly quickly, but six months later, many of his symptoms still plague him.

“If I go out, and I try to do anything that causes my heart rate to go up or my respiration to go up, it does cause my chest pain to worsen. I start to struggle for breath even talking,” he said, adding, “Even just talking … it causes my breathing to become harder, you know? I almost get this wheeze.”

Post-COVID syndrome knowns, unknowns

So what do Vanichkachorn and his colleagues know about long haulers?

Short-term memory issues, difficulty concentrating and shortness of breath are incredibly prevalent among long haulers, but a “profound” fatigue has emerged as the most common symptom among the group, Vanichkachorn said.

“Patients will say that doing something as simple as taking a dog for a walk, going up a flight of steps in their home can often result in them needing to take a nap or a rest for several hours afterwards,” he told CNBC.

Dr. Jose Mercado, an assistant professor of medicine at Dartmouth, told NHPR that the virus’s lasting effects can vary widely, but heart and lung complications, abnormal blood clotting and the persistent loss of smell and taste have been widely reported among long haulers.

In turn, Vanichkachorn advised against “doing too much, too quickly” when recovering from COVID-19.

“Their recovery may be longer and if they are too tired or fatigued, they really need to listen to their bodies and pace themselves,” he told CNBC.

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