CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — It's been nearly three years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and today medical professionals say they are still learning about the virus.
Experts tell us those who got sick years ago may continue living with symptoms. A condition they are calling Long COVID. And for those still dealing with symptoms, normal life may not be a possibility anymore.
Pharmacist Phil Smith says its a medical problem that does not currently have a cure.
Some of those people struggle just to get out of bed." Smith told us. "All we can really do is kind of treat the symptoms.
The symptoms that last for months or years after the initial infection, long COVID currently impacts 23 million Americans, or roughly 30% of COVID cases. A new study shows the condition comes with a hefty price tag.
A Harvard study found those with Long COVID costs the U.S. economy $538 billion in medical expenses; and for each patient roughly $9,000 a year in medical costs.
Doctor Carlos Baleeiro says Long COVID is still in the early studying stages and those looking into it say there are a wide variety symptoms to study.
All the added doctor's visits, you know, urgent care, X rays, you know, all the kinds of tests that can be ordered to rule things out." Baleeiro told us. "It's not like you come to the office, we do one blood test and say yep, you have long COVID. It is more complicated than that.
Smith says the symptoms won't make people test positive for COVID.
It may range all the way from a cough or, you know, little blue discoloration of the fingers to permanent respiratory disability where you have to be on a chronic ventilator." Smith said.
And only now is Long COVID being accepted as a legitimate health problem.
There's still a stigma, I'm having these symptoms, but I don't test positive for COVID anymore, but I feel like the stigmas starting to kind of flip in that people realize that long COVID is a thing." Smith told us.
Health professionals sometimes turn to Paxlovid to treat those with COVID. But with Long COVID still under researched, Smith says the drug may prove useful in finding a long-term solution for symptoms as well.
In the meantime, Smith says over-the-counter and other prescription medications can fight symptoms. Putting them back on the path to a normal life.
There's definitely things you can do. As far as treating like, you know, constipation, reflux, even heart palpitations." Smith says. "Doctors are trying to find a way to help those people, you know, kind of get back to work and their day-to-day life.
This is a developing story. Depend on us.