As one health crisis wanes, another begins: Long COVID on the rise


Monitor staff

Published: 04-21-2022 4:05 PM

Maria Pacelli is often struck by the sickly-sweet stench of rotting onions.

The inexplicable smell is not a product of the environment but of her brain, thanks to long COVID, a syndrome that wreaks havoc on the body long after the COVID-19 virus vacates cells.

After a grueling ten-day stay at the hospital in 2020 and months of chest x-rays, Pacelli thought her fight with COVID-19 was finally behind her. But nearly two years after her diagnosis, the Concord resident is still dealing with symptoms like phantom smells, fatigue, and a persistent cough.

Headaches appear so regularly in the morning, that her husband stopped asking whether her head hurt and instead asks how bad it is.

To Pacelli, whose mother suffered from dementia, the scariest part of long COVID is the toll it has taken on her memory. She struggles to remember words or recall conversations she had hours earlier.

“The word retrieval stuff makes me really concerned,” she said. “My friends are quite used to now jumping in and finishing my sentences for me or filling in the gap.”

One of New England’s few clinics that specializes in long-COVID is seeing a surge in patients like Pacelli. Dartmouth Health’s Post-Acute COVID Syndrome Clinic saw an unprecedented number of referrals in March and April is already on track to be equally busy, said the clinic leader, Dr. Jeffrey Parsonnet.

“We have more referrals to the clinic last month than we did even when we first opened our clinic and there was pent-up demand for it,” Parsonnet said.

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