CDC developing guidelines to treat COVID-19 long-haulers

Millions of people could be left with chronic health problems after contracting the coronavirus, so we looked at what’s being done to counter the problem.

Before she contracted COVID-19 in July 2020, Natalie Hakala was a serious athlete who was used to pushing her body.

“I was a collegiate runner at a D2 college,” Hakala said.

Hakala initially had a mild reaction. She lost her sense of smell and taste.

A month later, things developed more seriously for her health.

“I began developing shortness of breath, chest pains, difficulty breathing,” Hakala said. “I had severe fatigue building up. Each week got worse and worse.”

Hakala explained daily life began to change for her.

“I stayed home on the couch, completely bedridden,” Hakala said. “I was unable to make breakfast. My big activity for the day was taking a shower.”

The young athlete says watching TV became too exhausting, but test after test came back normal.

“Nothing was really showing anything abnormal,” Hakala said.

“Some of you have been suffering for over a year with no answers, no treatment options, not even a prediction of what your future may be,” said Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health. “Some of you have even faced skepticism about whether your symptoms are real. I want to assure you I hear you, and I believe you.”

“The most important thing is to make sure that this condition is recognized,” said Dr. John Brooks, the chief medical officer of the CDC COVID-19 response. “We need to make sure folks know what they’re looking at.”

Right now, there are about 60 long-COVID clinics set up across the country.

But preliminary reports say, up to 30% of COVID-19 survivors might have long-term health impacts.

That means those 60 clinics won’t be enough to meet the need.

That’s why Brooks says developing guidelines for all clinicians to help spot and treat long-haulers like Hakala are critical.

“Getting ahead of this with proper training is important,” Brooks said.

Nine months later, Hakala is far from recovery.

“Fifteen minutes is the most I can go at a 10-minute mile pace,” Hakala said. “Which compared to my previous self, I would normally run an easy run at an eight-minute pace. So I’m still a little way off but definitely improving.”

The CDC has a first draft of long-COVID guidelines for clinicians. The guidelines are in the clearance process, but they are expected to come out shortly.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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