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COVID long haulers get a boost from University of Utah research

Dec 2, 2020, 4:34 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — New University of Utah Health fundraising aims to find answers for COVID-19 long haulers: people who contract the virus but continue to deal with the effects months later. 

Little data available

State health officials don’t track COVID long haulers, so we don’t know much about them. Yet. But they estimate it could be as many as one in four COVID patients who go on to become long haulers. 

“Up to 25% of COVID patients who have not been hospitalized could develop long effects, which is a huge segment of the population,” said Dr. Nicole Frank, the associate director of the University’s Immunology, Inflammation, and Infectious Disease Initiative.

Lisa O’Brien considers herself one of them. Long after the virus left her system (and she tested negative again), she still deals with heart rate issues and breathing concerns. She also struggles with finding the right words when she speaks, describes overwhelming fatigue, and says she’s dealt with internal tremors and even a blood clot in one of her lungs. 

“I was having such a hard time getting people to believe me,” O’Brien told KSL TV. “Not only doctors but even family members and friends. It’s such a difficult thing to go through.”

Teaming up to help COVID-19 long haulers

O’Brien founded a Facebook group for other COVID long haulers. More recently, she teamed up with the U, which launched its fundraising initiative in time for Giving Tuesday. She hopes to help find answers, even if those answers come after we can access the vaccine. 

“We want to educate. We want people to know that this is a risk. It’s not just this 99% survival rate. We’ve got to look at the recovery rate, too. And there’s a good chunk of people that are not recovering and there’s no end in sight. We don’t know if we ever go back to who we were 100%,” O’Brien said. 

While official Utah Department of Health numbers estimate 138,995 people have recovered from COVID-19 out of the 202,220 diagnosed so far in the state, if 25% are indeed long haulers, that’s potentially just shy of 35,000 people continuing to deal with the effects. 


How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Wear a mask to protect yourself and others per CDC recommendations.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet).
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities).
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States

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