When 22-year-old Callen Camp got COVID in August 2021, she said it was the sickest she’s ever been.
By the time the University of Florida English senior was able to return to class, she said her brain was “muddy and slow.”
“It was hard to function,” she said. “Walking to class and interacting in discussions was really difficult.”
She described feeling fatigued and having brain fog, or difficulty thinking or concentrating. Both are common symptoms of long COVID.
Camp is among the nearly one in five U.S. adults who develop long COVID after experiencing COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some people who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 can experience post-COVID symptoms for four or more weeks after the infection, according to the CDC.
Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog and chest pain.
Women ages 30 to 50 are the most affected demographic, said Irene Estores, clinical associate professor and director of the UF Health COVID Restore Clinic.
The COVID Restore program was one of the first post-COVID care clinics to emerge in the United States. Estores started it in July 2021.
Estores said she has patients at the clinic complete a symptom checklist, and she performs function exams to provide tailored treatment.
Treatments vary based on need. Some patients require breathing treatments, while others receive cognitive treatment.
“One of the most common symptoms of long COVID is fatigue,” she said. “That impacts your ability to work, study and to parent.”
“Long COVID will definitely impact our economy,” Estores said. “There will be more people unable to return to work, and more people who will have to file for disability benefits.”
The extended effects of COVID-19 have been described as the “pandemic after the pandemic,” and long COVID qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Scientists are still learning about long COVID.
Estores said she is most curious about biomarkers, a specific biological characteristic that determines what causes long COVID in some but not in others.
To get answers to these questions, UF has a long-COVID contact registry, where those who have experienced long COVID can voluntarily participate in research and studies.
Cynthia Apfelbaum, UF clinical research coordinator and contact for the long-COVID registry, said that the registry itself is not conducting research.
“The goal of the registry is to have a place for people who are doing research to contact them [people with long COVID],” she said.
So far, the registry has over 100 enrollees.
Estores encourages people with long COVID to join the registry and contribute to solving some of long COVID’s mysteries.
Over a year after having COVID, Camp said she still experiences brain fog. It has become less severe, but she wonders if it will ever end.
“It varies from person to person,” Estores said. “That is a question that does not have an easy answer.”