Thousands of COVID-19 survivors can't seem to shake the symptoms months after they were diagnosed.
Business Insider spoke to 80 of these "long-haulers" to see how they've been coping with prolonged illness.
Their symptoms include fevers, brain fog, memory loss, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, and blurry vision.
COVID-19 isn't over when it's over.
Thousands of people who survived the coronavirus just can't seem to shake the symptoms — even months after their diagnoses.
We spoke with more than 80 people who have lingering symptoms.
They call themselves "long-haulers," and as the virus continues it spread across the country, it's a population that's only growing.
"Some people are lucky. They only take a few weeks to recover after they've been sick," one long-hauler, Elisa McCafferty, told Business Insider Weekly. "But then there are the rest of us that it will take us a long time."
Before COVID-19, 33-year-old Hector Martinez of San Antonio didn't have any mental health issues. Now, he has anxiety and depression. Four months after his first symptom, he still feels sick, he's always tired, and he has brain fog.
"It's like a dream that is getting longer for me to wake up," Martinez said. "There are some days when I'm happy and there are some other days when I don't have feelings."
Martinez is an electrician. But when he went back to work in July, he couldn't remember how to install a light switch.
"It was like it was the first time I was doing it," he said. "I cried on my way back home because … how can this be happening to me?"
Now, he can only manage to work a few days at a time, and says he feels insecure about his future.
Lingering symptoms don't get nearly as much attention as the race to find a vaccine. But some doctors, like neurologist Svetlana Blitshteyn, have been treating patients like Martinez.
"What I see in my clinic are patients presenting with new onset of fatigue, dizziness, difficulty, standing, palpitations, shortness of breath, and inability to exercise as they previously did," Blitshteyn said. "Or they may also have headaches, numbness, sleep disturbance, cognitive problems, as well as mood issues."
Cardiologist Sadiya Khan says fatigue is one of the most common post-COVID symptoms she's seeing in her practice.
"With coronavirus, what we're seeing is that feeling of being wiped out or extraordinarily tired weeks later, or even months later," Khan said.
A study on lingering coronavirus symptoms found that 87% of patients who recovered had at least one. Elissa Miolene, a 27-year-old from New York City, can relate.
"It is now 115 days later and I am still feeling the exact same symptoms," Miolene said. "Life for me now is waking up in the middle of the night and crying because I'm in so much pain and not knowing why."
She used to think of herself as an active and healthy 20-something. But now, she relies on virtual physical therapy to deal with her constant back and chest pain.
"I can be walking down the street and be perfectly fine. And then I'm heaving and cannot walk another step," she said.
"I have no idea when I'm going to get better. I have no idea when I'm going to feel like myself again, or when I'm going to get back to the things that I like to do."
Early on in the pandemic, public health officials said that recovering from COVID-19 generally takes about two weeks and that older people were more at risk. But by July, it was clear that 20% of young adults with no preexisting conditions were still suffering three weeks after testing positive.
The CDC now recognizes that COVID-19 can result in prolonged illness.
Stephen Smith has one of the most unusual suspected lingering symptoms of the accounts Business Insider Weekly heard. The 64-year-old from Boise, Idaho, fell ill with the virus in February after a work trip in Asia. He had a fever, a kidney infection, hair loss, swollen toes, and headaches.
Seven months later, he's still sick.
"You need to believe that this is serious and it potentially can make you very sick, and in some cases kill you," Smith said.
More than five months after getting sick on a cruise ship, 48-year-old McCafferty is still breathless and so tired that it's debilitating.
"I can't even walk up a flight of stairs to go to the loo without losing my breath," she said. "I have days where I just cry for no reason. It'll just set me off."
She continued: "A really bad day for me is I have no energy. I'll have had nine to 10 hours sleep the night before, but I'll still be bone exhausted. I will keel over. My brain will just fog. I'll be in the middle of a sentence to a client or a friend and I'll totally lose track of what I was saying."
This uncertainty now haunts thousands of people who are left to wonder if they now have a chronic condition.
"Some days I feel my mind is sharp. Other days I don't even know where I'm going or what I'm going to do in life," Martinez said. "So every time that I go to sleep, I'm always praying to God to be better the next day."
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