This COVID Complication May Never Go Away, NIH Director Warns

There is no end in sight for some coronavirus patients.

For many people, COVID doesn't end when their 10-day quarantine is up. Some people continue to experience coronavirus complications for weeks or months following their positive test. Now, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Francis Collins, PhD, is warning that some COVID complications may never disappear. To learn more about these potential long-term effects, read on, and for more coronavirus news, Dr. Fauci Just Said That He's Worried About COVID in These 2 States.

Long COVID may never go away entirely.

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People who have COVID symptoms for weeks or months after their diagnosis have been called "long-haulers" or said to be suffering from "long COVID," more formally known as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC). During a March 1 discussion with NBC News, Collins delivered the bad news that these long-lasting COVID symptoms may never disappear. "I fear that some people who have had these effects, who are already three or four months out, may not be on a path to get better in a few more months, and this could be something that becomes a chronic illness," Collins said.

Collins noted that having COVID is already a difficult experience, "but you kind of thought, 'OK, if I get through this, that's it,' and to find out for some people that's not it, that is cruel." The NIH director described long COVID as "another heartbreak we didn't see coming." And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.

The NIH is still trying to understand why long COVID is occurring.

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Collins said the NIH is working to understand how the virus is able to cause an illness that some people don't recover from the way your body is supposed to. "What is it? Have you done harm to the body by some sort of blood clotting problem from an immune system problem that's gone haywire? We really don't know," Collins said.

The NIH will follow COVID long-haulers for months, and possibly even years, to try to gain an understanding of long COVID, Collins said. Long COVID is made even more difficult to understand because long-haulers' experiences don't follow a common pattern. While some are sick at first, others don't show symptoms until weeks later, he explained.

NBC News correspondent Stephanie Gosk explained, "The hope is that identifying the cause will help treat the symptoms." However, she noted that if the issues are related to the brain, the outlook isn't promising. Avindra Nath, MD, a principal investigator at NIH, told her that while the brain can repair some damage, it can't repair it all. And for signs you could be a long-hauler, Dr. Fauci Just Said This Is the Tell-Tale Sign You Have Long COVID.

A significant percentage of COVID patients become long-haulers.

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Collins pointed out that it's "kind of a frightening thing to contemplate." He continued, "When you consider, we know 28 million people in the United States have had COVID. If even 1 percent of them have chronic long-term consequences, that's a whole lot of people, and we need to find out everything we can about how to help them." Unfortunately, more than 1 percent of people have reported long COVID symptoms. A Sept. 23 study from The BMJ found that about 10 percent of people who have COVID become long-haulers. And for more on long COVID, Dr. Fauci Says These Are the COVID Symptoms That Don't Go Away.

There are a number of long COVID symptoms.

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While there are dozens of symptoms COVID long haulers have reported experiencing, there are a few that come up more commonly. According to the University of California Davis Health, some of the most common long COVID symptoms include coughing, ongoing fatigue, body aches, joint pain, shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and brain fog. People can experience these symptoms after either a symptomatic or asymptomatic COVID case. And for more on the most reported symptoms of long-haulers, discover The New Long COVID Symptom a Quarter of Patients Have, Study Says.

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