It’s one more reason to consider getting a COVID vaccine.

About 10% of patients in New Jersey and around the world who get the novel coronavirus become “long haulers,” not fully recovering from COVID for multiple weeks or even months after first testing positive and getting sick.

Some long-haulers initially seem to recover but then weeks later suddenly become plagued with a variety of symptoms, and some people who got COVID at that start of the pandemic 14 months ago continue to struggle.

“Symptoms can range from mild to debilitating, incapacitating symptoms,” said Dr. Vanessa Trespalacios, medical director for the RWJBarnabas Health Post COVID Care program.

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Trespalacios said long-hauler syndrome is not something to be taken lightly.

“A lot of patients are being dismissed by either their primary care doctors or certain specialists, even by their family members, and so it’s developing this stigma,” she said. “This is real.”

“This is unprecedented. I’ve never in my career seen anything like this," she added.

In many long-haulers, the most common symptom is shortness of breath or cough as well as loss of taste or smell. Others continue with fatigue or chest pains.

"There’s a lot of patients that are describing something that they’ve termed 'brain fog' — it’s actually just cognitive decline," she said, which can include difficulty with concentrating and memory, which can also lead to anxiety and depression.

Trespalacios said some of her patients are former marathon runners who can no longer walk up a flight of stairs without becoming short of breath.

She explained in about 25% of COVID patients, some symptoms may linger 5 to 8 weeks, but about 10% of individuals who contracted the virus will continue to have symptoms for at least 12 weeks, and there is no way to predict how long those symptoms will continue.

Recent data shows about 10% of long haulers report symptoms disappearing after they receive the COVID vaccine. Right now doctors don’t understand why, but some theorize the vaccine essentially “resets” the immune system when antibodies build up in the body.

Trespalacios said some symptoms can be treated to a certain extent. Brain fog is treated with cognitive rehab therapy, but “there are no real answers as to how to treat them or what is the actual cause. There’s a lot of theories.”

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