CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Most people who get COVID-19 recover in a matter of weeks, but doctors say 10 to 30 percent end up with lingering symptoms known as long COVID.
As the omicron variant infects tens of thousands of people every day in North Carolina, doctors say we can only wait and see if the variant results in the same rate of long COVID cases.
Steve Boheler came down with COVID-19 back in Sept. 2020.
“It was a pretty mild case,” he recalled. “It was kind of like a mild flu for a little over a week.”
Once he felt better, he figured he was done with the virus.
“But then when I went back to work, I worked two hours and I was just absolutely zapped,” he remembered. “After two months, my strength wasn’t coming back — I was experiencing bad headaches.”
Sixteen months after his mild illness, he says he experiences fatigue and brain fog that can be debilitating.
“If I spent two hours on the computer, I’m done for the day,” said Boheler, of Kings Mountain.
Boheler is one of more than 750 patients treated at the UNC COVID Recovery Clinic.
Dr. John Baratta is the clinic’s founder and co-director.
“I think the nature of COVID is such that there is a high risk for lingering symptoms after initial infection,” Baratta explained. “The early data suggests 10 percent to 30 percent of survivors will experience some type of lingering effects.”
Baratta says it’s too early to know whether omicron will cause as many cases of long COVID.
“Omicron seems to correlate with less severe illness, and we do you know that that can lessen the likelihood of long COVID,” he noted. “However, given the sheer number of people that are affected right now, and who have been affected, and will still be affected, we do know there will be a lot of long COVID sufferers.”
Baratta says most doctors define long COVID as symptoms that persist for at least one to three months after initial infection. Since omicron only became widespread in the United States last month, it will take longer to determine whether it’s causing long-term symptoms in a significant amount of people.
Just like the virus itself, long COVID seems to affect different people differently.
While some see symptoms resolve after several months or a year, Boheler says he’s still struggling, hoping treatments can improve his symptoms, and help him cope.
“What we’re talking about is trying to learn to deal with it,” he said. “How to live with it and how to adjust accordingly.”