What is ‘long COVID’ ... and how many in Hawaii could have it?

What is ‘long COVID’ ... and how many in Hawaii could have it?
The Hawaii State Lab is monitoring for potential cases of a new variant of COVID-19. (Source: Hawaii Department of Health)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - This week, state Senate Majority Leader Kalani English announced he would be retiring Saturday after being diagnosed with “long-haul” COVID symptoms.

English had contracted COVID in November and said he seemed to have a fairly mild case.

But the following month, he noticed new symptoms emerging: Brain fog, problems with his short- and long-term memory, and a pervasive lethargy that he couldn’t shake. His doctor told him that he needed to focus on his health ― and try to cut down on his stress levels.

English is among the estimated millions of Americans ― and potentially thousands of Hawaii residents ― experiencing varying symptoms of “long COVID.”

So-called long-haulers have recovered from the acute symptoms of the disease, but are struggling with other lingering symptoms.

They report anxiety or sleeplessness. Weakness or shortness of breath. Hair loss.

Some have many symptoms. Others just have one or two.

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Some report being unable to conduct their normal activities; others describe the symptoms as nagging.

In other words, the trend here is that there isn’t one. And answers for patients can be just as elusive.

Dr. Bennett Loui, who is heading up Hawaii Pacific Health’s Long COVID Care program, said while researchers and doctors are learning more about long COVID every day there are still a host of unknowns ― including about how to treat it.

His program has partnered with a team of specialists to tackle the range of symptoms patients see.

“One of the important findings about this problem is that you don’t have to have been severely ill from COVID to develop long-term symptoms,” Loui said.

“It’s important to recognize all these different presentations. Some people may not recognize that what they’re going through relates to COVID.”

A growing body of evidence suggests that as many as 10% of all those who have had COVID will develop long-hauler symptoms.

That roughly translates to more than 3,000 potential cases of long COVID in the islands.

Not all of those cases will be life-changing, Loui said, but some of them will.

“Something that we know is that we don’t know everything,” he said. “Fortunately, we are being supported by experts and specialists in key areas that will contribute.”

Loui’s program is currently tracking about a dozen patients and is recruiting more through doctors.

He said anyone who believes they have long COVID symptoms should talk to their doctor ― even if they have never been diagnosed with having COVID-19.

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