AVENTURA, Fla. – While the symptoms of the novel coronavirus typically pass within a couple of weeks, some people experience long-term effects, even after testing negative for the virus.
When Michael Jaar became infected with COVID-19 in late March, he went through the usual flu-like symptoms for several days.
But even after testing negative for the virus, he started having pain and swelling in his joints and went to see a specialist.
“He decided to test the fluid they were extracting from my joints and decided to test it for COVID antibodies and the results came back positive,” Jaar said.
“For me that was ‘Wow!’ this condition can affect so many things,” said Rheumatologist Dr. Norman Gaylis.
In essence, Jaar is what’s known as a COVID “long hauler.”
It’s a term referring to people who, even after getting over the acute symptoms of the virus, continue to suffer long term effects that are extremely debilitating.
Gaylis said the condition is estimated to affect more than 10% of COVID-19 patients.
“You figure that as of today 16 million people have been infected with COVID. That really means that more than a million and a half people may have ‘long hauler syndrome,’ which means they’re still suffering from one symptom or another that they never had prior to the onset of COVID,” Gayliss said.
Long hauler symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, muscle and joint pain, headaches, lingering cough, sensory distortion, chest pain and joint inflammation.
“Ultimately any system can be affected by the way COVID affects the immune system. The cytokines just kind of go where they go,” Gaylis said.
In Jaar’s case, infusions of a drug used to treat inflammatory conditions helped relieve the joint swelling and pain.
“It’s been three months since my last infusion and knock on wood I’m back to normal,” he said.
Long haulers syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of age or health.
It’s been seen in both people who were hospitalized with COVID-19 and those with mild symptoms.