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Upcoming Report From Northwestern Medicine Gives Clues About How Long COVID-19 Symptoms Can Linger

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Preliminary findings from an upcoming report from Northwestern Medicine give more clues about just how long COVID-19 symptoms can last after having the virus.

A doctor told CBS 2's Jackie Kostek that most people who have lingering symptoms do fully recover within four to six weeks of having COVID. But for some, those symptoms persist for months, and in some cases, well over a year.

While doctors say it's too early to know whether Omicron will cause long COVID in the same or different way than previous variants, the team at Northwestern's Neuro COVID-19 Clinic is learning more about some of the first people to experience long haul symptoms.

"There are patients who present with persistent neurological problems now lasting 22 months," said Dr. Igor Koralnik.

Koralnik is the chief of neuro-infectious disease at Northwestern. He said the team is working on a follow-up to a study first published in February of 2021, which tracked 100 of the clinic's first long-haul patients. Of the patients tracked, 70% were women, the majority white, with an average age of 43. They had not been hospitalized with the virus but had long COVID symptoms develop after, including brain fog, headache, fatigue, and issues with smell and taste.

Now, Koralnik says it's been at least 14 months since symptoms started.

"Unfortunately we saw that most symptoms persisted in those patients," he said. "For smell and taste, it tended to improve over time. But we also saw patients who developed new symptoms over time when they didn't have them before."

The good news, Koralnik says, is that everybody tends to improve over time.

"Some people tend to improve faster in certain categories of problem. Some people it takes longer to improve. We can't give prognostic for single patients based on the group evolution, but we can tell them that in general, things are going to get better."

Because there is no one-size-fits-all diagnosis, Koralnik said possible treatments vary by symptom and patient. As for the research suggesting that getting vaccinated or boosted after infection could help long-haulers recover, Koralnik said he has not found the vaccine to cure or worsen long COVID in his patients.

"Sometimes patients had a transient reaction. Sometimes people said it reawakened the long COVID symptoms but only for 24-48 hours. We haven't had patients who have said they got better after vaccine, but there are patients who are getting better anyway and they're still getting better after vaccine."

Koralnik said people should still get vaccinated and continue to follow CDC guidelines to help prevent getting the virus in the first place.

Koralnik said the Neuro Covid Clinic has seen more than 1,100 patients from all over the country since May of 2020. They have had to increase staffing to keep up with demand. They're currently booking appointments months out.

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