CHARLOTTE, N.C. — By now, the majority of Americans have tested positive for COVID-19. But a decent-sized population is still dealing with lingering symptoms of an infection, months and even years later.
New research released Wednesday shows the impact of long COVID-19. According to the CDC, in the first 30 months of the pandemic, 3,500 people died from it.
Doctors say 10% to 20% of adults who have tested positive also developed long-haul symptoms. The most common are brain fog, fatigue and difficulty breathing and for some, it can be debilitating.
Two years ago this week, Brook Keaton tested positive for COVID-19. But she’s never fully recovered. Long COVID-19 cost her the life she once had.
Stockings hang from the mantle and the star on top of the Christmas tree shines bright just like every year at the Keaton house, but a COVID-19 diagnosis from Christmas 2020 is still impacting this year’s holidays.
“It has changed everything,” Keaton told WCNC Charlotte.
She is a COVID-19 long hauler. She now takes several medications every day to treat a heart condition, arthritis and fatigue, all developed after her infection.
“As far as my memory is concerned, I set alarms for everything,” she said. “So, to remember to pick my daughter up from school. I mean things that you normally just do automatically, I have to set an alarm.”
It’s cost her a lot. She’s had more than 100 doctors’ appointments, tests, and procedures in a year. Her family is now living on one income because she can’t work as a teacher.
“To abruptly stop something that I loved so much was devastating,” Keaton said.
She’s not alone. The UNC COVID Recovery Center was founded less than two years ago and has already seen 1,500 patients.
“Access to our clinics as well as other long covid clinics has been a problem because the need for long COVID care far surpasses the available clinics,” Dr. John Baratta, the founder and co-director of UNC’s COVID Recovery Center, said.
They continue to address the individual symptoms patients are experiencing and new treatments have shown promise. But he thinks this is just the start.
“This is going to be a syndrome that we, unfortunately, will be treating and trying to help people through for many years to come,” Baratta said.
Baratta said data shows people who have been vaccinated are at lower risk of developing long COVID-19, even if they have a breakthrough infection. Also, he said those who are treated with the anti-viral Paxlovid are at a 26% lower risk of developing long-haul symptoms.
Despite it all, Keaton has hope this Christmas.
“I just continue to fight continue to try to stay positive and just advocating for people with long COVID,” she said.
She adds the silver lining has been connecting with and helping other people dealing with long-haul symptoms.
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