COVID-19 "long-haulers" say they have no energy. Even routine things, like cleaning up the dishes, makes them feel exhausted.
That was the case for South Bay health care worker, Isabel Ortuno, who was hospitalized and survived COVID-19 in October 2020. The effects of the disease, however, have continued on for the long haul.
On Monday Ortuno said she is feeling better, but only for the last 10 days. She has been seeing a cardiologist who gave her medicatins to help. Her heart palpitations and chest pain comes and goes, but for now, "I'm taking it day by day. It's been a long journey."
It's people like Ortuno l that Lucy Horton, an infectious disease doctor at UC San Diego Health, wants to help.
She started UC San Diego Health's post-acute COVID-19 telemedicine clinic after noticing the rise in patients dealing with long haul symptoms. The clinic has experts from different departments who are focused on studying patients and helping them recover.
"From cardiology, pulmonology, rheumatology, allergy physical therapy, psychiatry etc. to work together to provide comprehensive care for these patients," Horton said.
Although they are still learning a lot about long haulers and how to treat them, they have noticed some patterns.
"From a variety of reports, from the literature, it seems like 10 to 15% report ongoing symptoms up to and past three months, so it's a pretty large percentage of the population," Horton said.
At this point, the clinic is treating more women than men, but they don't know why. They're also seeing a lot of people in their 30s and 40s who, besides having COVID, have no other underlying conditions, and many people that never experienced a severe case of the coronavirus to begin with.
"It does include patients who had a mild course of COVID. They weren't hospitalized. They didn't require other than supportive care," Horton said.
She said a lot of her patients deal with memory loss, sometimes forgetting how to do daily tasks.
"Just yesterday, I had a patient who got into her car and couldn't remember how to roll down her window," she said.
Horton says some of her long-haulers have completely recovered. But others worry they'll never be the same.
"It's quite hard to say whether they will be life-long or resolve within months to years," she said. "We want to reassure them and give them hope that they will get better and give them hope that all of the different things we are trying will be successful, but at the end of the day we honestly just don't know."
Horton says her post-COVID clinic has dozens of patients, but that it's just the tip of the iceberg. With the increase in cases over the past few months, she expects the number of long-haulers to also rise.
The clinic is open to adults ages 18 and older who have had a positive COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and Symptoms or health complications lasting four or more weeks. If you are new to UC San Diego Health, you can make an appointment by calling 619-543-8263 or visit here for more information.