With COVID cases once again trending higher in New Jersey, there is growing concern about the condition known as long COVID, where symptoms persist for several weeks or in some cases, a lot longer.

According to Dr. Sabiha Hussain, the medical director of the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital COVID-19 Recovery Clinic, 25% to 30% of individuals who get the virus wind up with long COVID, sometimes referred to as post-COVID syndrome.

Improvement, then relapse

“Some people that we thought were getting better, having their symptoms improve, they actually are getting another round of COVID infections and then those symptoms are starting to recur," she said.

She also pointed out that individuals may have started out with certain symptoms but evolve to other symptoms.

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"Let’s say they started out with shortness of breath to begin with, maybe some of that is elevating but now they’re having joint pains and chest pains," she said.

Nothing, then sudden onset

“Certain patients who maybe had gotten COVID a year ago may not have had symptoms at that time, but now a year out are having symptoms of Long Haul," Hussain said.

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She noted that some patients face a constant battle, where the light at the end of the tunnel never comes.

Dr. Sonia Sharma, a physician at AtlantiCare’s Post-COVID-19 Long Haul Clinic team, said some common symptoms can include anxiety, depression, fatigue, and “we also tend to see quite a bit, and I would say this one of the top 2 or 3 symptoms that patients come into us for, which is shortness of breath.”

She said this gasping for air can be activity-induced or at rest.

“We also see tremendous volumes of brain fog, which is marked by concentration issues, memory impairment, feeling as if one is in a daze," she said.

Since the Omicron variant showed up in January, patients have complained about one-sided ear pain and sore throats, Sharma said.

Hussain said initially many patients complained of fatigue and brain fog but lately, there are a growing number of long COVID patients also complaining of joint pain.

“Nobody has a clear idea of why it’s happening. It seems maybe immunologic but what to do with this cohort is difficult,” she said.

More research is needed

She said more study on

long COVID is needed because so many patients are affected by it.

“If we don’t take care of it now, it’s going to be a huge burden on the healthcare system, and as this pandemic becomes a sideline story, I don’t want these patients to be forgotten," she said.

Sharma said long COVID continues to be a serious issue, not only for older people but younger individuals who are “parents, caregivers — it affects their full-time functioning in that they may no longer be able to work full-time.”

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