ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Nearly 20% of asymptomatic COVID patients are expected to experience at least one symptoms of COVID long-haul, according to a new study. 

Long COVID-19 is when symptoms persist a month or more after catching the virus. 

Lisa Locaputo lives in East Rochester and she was infected with COVID in February of 2021. She was not vaccinated at the time.

“I wasn’t being cavalier at that time. But we did go out, my friend and I went out,” Locaputo said. We went for brunch, we went to Wegmans, went to the gay bar, we went to junk food, we went everywhere. So I honestly cannot tell you how I got it. But it hit me hard.”

For six months, Locaputo and her friend experienced fatigue. She described being “shocked” that by 6 p.m., she wanted to go to bed. She also hasn’t gotten her taste and smell back completely. 

“Whenever I make homemade soup, it’s way too salty now. So when I share it with my friends, they’re like, ‘Wow,’ so I’m so embarrassed because I can’t even cook, right? I can’t even cook in a way that other people want to eat my food,” Locaputo said. 

Locaputo added that she also dealt with shortness of breath for a long time. She used to do three to five miles a day outside or on her treadmill, but she noticed a difference after catching COVID.

“For me to try to carry a garbage bag from the garage, down the driveway to the edge of the property became, you know, like a marathon,” Locaputo said. And I wouldn’t have to stop in the middle and kind of just couldn’t believe it.”

Locaputo, who is fully vaccinated, is one of millions of Americans still feeling the effects of COVID. In fact, new studies estimate long COVID could be causing 1.6 million Americans to miss work. Meanwhile, one in seven kids are estimated to experience long-haul symptoms.

Emil Lesho, an Infectious Disease Doctor and Hospital Epidemiologist for Rochester Regional, said he’s seen a lot of patients come in who has lost their taste or smell for months.

“There’s another abnormality that you have, like it’s abnormal smell and taste,” Lesho said. So what were formerly like pleasant-smelling stuff, like cologne, and perfume, and others, are misperceived. Some people report a persistent smell of smoke or ashes, or vomit, or feces. So there’s like a dysregulation of your smell and taste receptors.” 

Lesho said it’s important people know that long COVID doesn’t just occur in people with severe cases of COVID. 

“Anybody can get this, even after a mild infection,” Lesho said. “In some studies in other countries, and in the United States, over half of the people that had COVID had some type of prolonged ‘long COVID symptoms’ even though their infection was relatively mild.”

Fatigue, muscle aches and lack of mental sharpness are also symptoms people report having. While most don’t require immediate medical care, some require more serious attention. 

“The SARS infection can cause substantial lung damage, especially the patients that were in the ICU and on a ventilator. And they’ll require months of rehabilitation, sometimes inpatient rehabilitation,” Lesho said. “It’s not like, ‘Well, yeah, I haven’t severe infection. I was in the ICU, and I’m back to normal a week later, you’re often in the hospital for a long time, following that you’re in rehab facility for another long time.”

So what should you do if you feel like you have symptoms of long COVID? Lesho said it depends on how the symptoms are affecting your daily routines. 

“If it’s for a couple of weeks after you’ve got your infection, I would just give it some time. If it’s going on longer, you might need to see your healthcare provider to see what else can be done. It’s often a multidisciplinary approach,” Lesho said. 

For Locaputo, long-COVID has changed the way she lives, especially because she has an elderly parent. 

“I don’t go into the office unless absolutely, absolutely necessary. I go to the grocery store, I go to the gas station, I do get my hair colored, I do go to the nail salon, but do I go out with friends and stuff? No. And I’m feeling extremely isolated,” Locaputo said. 

If there is one thing that long-COVID shows us, Lesho said it’s the importance of getting vaccinated. 

“In some studies, 50 to 60% of patients that had COVID, reported some time of prolonged symptoms. And it’s one of the many reasons why we emphasize the importance of getting vaccinated. This is almost not heard of from getting vaccinated,” Lesho said.

“If you can prevent an infection, you can prevent long COVID. You don’t have to have a severe infection to develop long COVID.”

To learn more about long-COVID symptoms, you can click here.