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Some COVID-19 long haulers have had symptoms for over a year and they're not easy to treat

Doctors say the Delta variant could drive the number of patients with long term symptoms up in October.

TAMPA, Fla. — Being a COVID-19 long hauler means your fight to overcome the virus can be unexpectedly overwhelming.

"I can only equate what I went through as hell on earth," Nick Hansen said.

The 38-year-old caught COVID back in December 2020 when vaccines weren't available yet. It's taken him 9 months to heal.

"Debilitating headaches, fatigue, memory loss. I wasn't able to get out of bed most days. Imagine trying to have a 5 min conversation with your spouse children or business partners and having to lie down after because that conversation took that much energy out of you," Hansen said in a press conference held by Mayor Jane Castor on Friday.

His case is similar to thousands across the country. Treating patients like Nick, when there's very little information about how the virus is affecting the body, hasn't been easy for doctors.

"It really has been challenging trying to figure out what we can do and really the kind of resources they might need to try and restore their quality of life," University of South Florida Health's Dean of the Tunisia College of Pharmacy, Dr. Kevin Sneed said. 

He continues to treat COVID-19 long haulers and saw them early on in the pandemic. Most of his patients are young, healthy and had mild cases.

"People recovered fairly quickly and thought you were going to move on with life and it just hasn't turned out to be that way for them," Sneed said.

It's been the same for Dr. Alba Azola's patients in Johns Hopkins' Post-acute COVID-19 Clinic. Most are young with ages anywhere between 20 to 40-years-old.

"They're typically younger females. They are severely impacted in their day to day lives because of this lingering symptoms," Azola said.

Over the last 16 months, doctors learned there aren't one set of treatments to help, but it's become easier to guide patients through their recovery.

"So far has been a time trial and error to try to figure out what medication or what treatment is going to be more sufficient. So hopefully we can build upon what we've learned so far," Azola said.

For now doctors say it's likely they could see more long haulers pop up as the Delta variant drives case numbers and hospitalizations up.

"If you look at the math overall, we may have a rash of COVID-19 long haulers beginning in October and extending into the remainder of this of the calendar year," Sneed said.

That's why those who have been through it like Nick are encouraging everyone to get a COVID-19 shot for protection.

"The risk is not just to get sick or to get very sick or potentially even die. The risk is also to live with something for the rest of your life that will impact how you function every day and how you interact with people around you every day," Hansen said.