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Are COVID tests reliable? New research shows millions of Americans had long COVID despite testing negative

Millions of Americans had long COVID despite negative virus test, new research shows
Millions of Americans had long COVID despite negative virus test, new research shows 02:36

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- There are new concerns about the reliability of COVID tests after new research found millions of Americans have long COVID, despite testing negative for the infection. This comes as the virus is spiking again.

COVID hospitalizations have doubled in the last two months but still remain low compared to the winter numbers. This new research said in the first year of the pandemic, nearly 10 million Americans developed long COVID without an official diagnosis  

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"It has a mental toll [and] it has an emotional toll," said Joy Ezekiel-Gibson, a South Jersey resident who has long COVID. "The fatigue was insane. The brain fog -- you're a whole different person."

She had an early and serious case of COVID, so being diagnosed a long hauler was relatively easy. However, new research shows millions of other long haulers tested negative for the virus.  

"Patients who are in this predicament should feel vindicated by the results of our study," Dr. Igor Koralnik, with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said.

The research team at Northwestern's comprehensive COVID-19 center studied 29 long haulers from June 2020 to April 2022 with a negative COVID-19 test and found 41% had been exposed to the coronavirus. The patients had similar signs and symptoms, quality of life issues and cognitive test results as people who had tested positive for COVID.

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"They have been rejected, in many instances by the medical establishment, which really adds insult to injury since they still suffer from the same long-haul symptoms," Dr. Koralnik said.

This comes as COVID hospitalizations have more than doubled since July. Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware all have 100% increases or more, and nationwide hospitalizations are up 94%.

'It's scary," Ezekiel-Gibson said. "I hope people take it seriously. I've given up trying to prove to people it's real."

Symptoms of long COVID –which can come and go – include chronic pain, brain fog, difficulty breathing and fatigue. There is also no test for this or one treatment.

ALSO SEE: Loss of smell or taste was once a telltale sign of COVID. Not anymore.

About 30% of post-COVID clinics require a positive test to see patients, which is something researchers said needs to change so more people get the care they need.

Doctors said long COVID is similar to chronic fatigue syndrome. It's complicated and difficult to diagnose and treat.

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