EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — It’s a perplexing problem this pandemic: why do some people develop what’s called ‘long COVID?’

Just as puzzling is how to provide the most effective treatment to help millions of so-called ‘long haulers.’

“There are no specific long COVID treatments, partially because we don’t know the mechanism of long COVID,” said Priya Duggal, Ph.D., MPH, Genetic/Infectious Disease Epidemiologist, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Epidemiologist Priya Duggal leads the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Study into long COVID.

During a media briefing Tuesday afternoon, she discussed the condition that strikes more than one in four Americans to date, the so-called ‘long haulers’ who deal with persistent symptoms months after contracting COVID-19.

So who’s at risk of developing long COVID?

“Global studies indicate that both men and women, all races, those hospitalized and not hospitalized, those with mild, moderate, and severe infection, those with and without co-morbidities and all ages,” Dr. Duggal stated.

She says no one really gets a free pass from the risk of long covid whose symptoms can range from neurological and cognitive issues to breathing difficulties and organ damage. The seriousness raises the stakes to solve long COVID.

“If it’s an extra virus then perhaps anti-virals will work and should be considered in trials,” said Dr. Duggal.

But what if it’s an immune response reaction? How do doctors control that initial response and prevent hospitalization but not cause some other health crisis? And what impact does the vaccine have?

“It’s not yet clear if the vaccine and boosters protect you from long COVID or if different sars-cov-2 variants result in different long-term outcomes but we do see that fewer people who were vaccinated report long covid symptoms,” Dr. Duggal explained.

While so much is unclear, what is clear is ‘long COVID’ is a serious threat to our nation’s health in more ways than one.

“And so this is a real question of how we should handle it, what priorities should be made, how will we handle employment? There’s a lot of questions that need to be asked that have moved us beyond just are people getting hospitalized and dying,” said Dr. Duggal.

It’s estimated three to five percent of people stricken with COVID-19 feel their long-term symptoms prevent them from functioning normally in everyday life.

Head to the Survivor Corps website for a list of clinics that provide care catering to ‘long COVID’ patients.