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For some COVID patients, the disease lingers for weeks—with little recourse
(Pexels)

"Long-haulers" of COVID-19 can experience profound fatigue, fever and other symptoms for weeks.

When Shelby Taylor, a 28-year-old North Austinite, received a negative COVID-19 test result last Friday, it capped off a nearly six-week bout with the disease.


"I'm officially done," she told Austonia in regards to battling the virus, although she estimates her sense of smell is still only at 95%.

Mild cases of COVID typically last one to two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. But preliminary data suggests that, among COVID patients who do not require hospitalization, up to a third remain sick three weeks after their diagnosis, said Dr. Matthew Robinson, medical director for infection disease at St. David's South Austin Medical Center.

"I think it's fair to say that this phenomenon appears to be, fortunately, in a minority of patients," he said.

These so-called "long-haulers" include young, low-risk patients such as Taylor. They may experience profound fatigue, fever and other symptoms, for which there is little recourse.

So far, no interventions have been identified, Robinson said, "but usually with time the vast majority of patients resolve and return to a baseline level of health."


Headshot of Shelby Taylor, who experienced symptoms of COVID-19 for weeks. (Photo courtesy of Shelby Taylor)


Taylor is grateful her case was mild—akin to a bad cold or severe allergies—but it took an emotional toll.

The first week was the worst, she said, as she tried to find the right blend of cold meds so she could continue her job as a client support specialist at a local financial firm. DayQuil and NyQuil left her feeling "absolutely crazy" and unable to focus.

"I was sitting in bed doing some work and I was like, 'I can't write an email. I can't focus on anything,'" she said.

Taylor's husband was let go from his job due to the pandemic, which meant he could help care for her.

"Fortunately-slash-unfortunately, we were both home during this whole process, and so it was nice to be able to have somebody close that could bring me tea or meds or take my temperature," she said.

Given the lack of treatment options, Robinson tries to emphasize to his COVID patients that they should focus on what they can control, such as sleep hygiene—having an environment and regimen that promotes uninterrupted sleep—which can help improve a cough or fatigue and accelerate recovery from acute illnesses.

This proved to be the cure for Taylor.

After her boss told her that she was entitled to additional paid sick leave per a federal coronavirus relief bill, she took three days off—creating a five-day weekend—during which she mostly slept and finally started to feel better.

With a negative test in hand, Taylor considers herself recovered, but she worries about the potential long-term effects.

"You hear these stories from all over about people having strokes or young people having heart or brain issues," she said. "There's zero consensus on anything medical right now."

It's too early to know the long-term impacts of COVID and whether they vary for patients with particularly stubborn cases, Robinson said.

Because Taylor and her husband plan to start a family in a few years, she made an appointment with her doctor, who ordered a battery of tests to be completed as a precaution.

"Those things weigh on me," she said. "Is [COVID] going to rear its ugly head in other forms in the future?"

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