Long COVID more frequent than experts expected

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Some days, she doesn’t feel like getting out of bed.

It’s been 17 months since Kumba Kanu tested positive for COVID-19 and she still has symptoms.  

“The fatigue [and] brain fog just kept going,” she said.

Kanu has what specialists call long COVID and is considered to be a COVID long hauler. Those specialists are also learning — as we continue through year three of the pandemic — it’s a lot more common than they originally thought.

“What I hear people say a lot is ‘I just want to be back to normal.’ And they’re frustrated that they’re not back to normal,” Dr. Shannon Neale, Park Nicolett’s chair of its Family Medicine Department, said.

Dr. Neale also leads the work to better understand long COVID and how best to care for those who are experiencing it. She says as many as 30% or more of those who’ve had COVID have symptoms three months or longer down the road.

According to Park Nicolett, some of those symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Difficulty thinking/concentrating (brain fog)

Despite this work being relatively new, some care has been successful.

“Occupational therapy, physical therapy, even some speech therapists have different techniques so we’re often referring to our rehab specialists for help,” Dr. Neale said.

Another aspect to this work is with mental health resources and breaking through the stigma that has developed.

“I think that’s one of the things that people can get really frustrated about is starting to feel like perhaps they’re making this up, or that people aren’t believing them that they’re having these symptoms,” Dr. Neale said, adding: “We do recognize that long COVID is an entity and we want to be here to support people through that.”

A Minnesota state senator is one of the many still reeling from COVID-19. After experiencing a medical situation during a senate floor session Tuesday, Senator Lindsey Port tweeted that she has been “living with the effects of Long COVID,” adding that doctors were still figuring out the reason for having to be brought to the hospital.

RELATED: Minnesota senator taken to hospital after medical incident during session

Wednesday, Senator Port posted that she is recovering at home with a mild concussion and that she was thankful for the senators and medical teams that cared for her.

For Kanu, she’s found that positivity — including getting help from a life coach — exercise, even gardening has helped her through these tough months. Sending this message to those who may be a COVID long hauler: seek help.

“A life coach helps so you can put your priorities in place and check and know what’s important at this time,” Kamu said. “And, try not to overload yourself.”

Resources and more information on long COVID can be found here.