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If You Feel This in Your Head, You May Have Long COVID, Says Dr. Fauci

An common sign of a post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection: brain fog.

If you're experiencing "brain fog," or difficulty concentrating or focusing, it may not be a hangover this time—it could be a sign you have "long COVID," says Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist and chief adviser to President Biden. It's a weird symptom of an even stranger syndrome: Symptoms experienced by people who've tested positive for COVID-19, weeks or months after the virus has cleared their body. It's something that experts are trying to understand. Read on to learn more about this long-lasting illness—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.

Dr. Fauci Says "Brain Fog" is a Hallmark Symptom of  Long COVID, or "PASC"

In December, Congress earmarked $1.5 billion over four years for the National Institutes of Health to study "long COVID,", Fauci said in a report from the White House COVID-19 response team briefing on Wednesday. It's now being referred to as PASC, for post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

People with PASC may experience a wide range of physical effects. "The symptoms of this include fatigue, shortness of breath, sleep disorders, fevers, GI symptoms, anxiety and depression, and what some are referring to as brain fog, or an inability or difficulty in concentrating or focusing," said Fauci. 

And it can be somewhat of a shape-shifter. "New symptoms sometimes arise well after the time of infection, or they evolve over time and they may persist for months," said Fauci. "They can range from mildly annoying to actually quite incapacitating."

People can get the syndrome even if they had mild cases of COVID that didn't require hospitalization, Fauci added. Brain fog is also a trademark symptom of Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), which Fauci has said PASC resembles. Says the CDC: "Most people with ME/CFS have trouble thinking quickly, remembering things, and paying attention to details. Patients often say they have 'brain fog' to describe this problem because they feel 'stuck in a fog' and not able to think clearly."

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Many Questions Surround PASC/Long COVID

"Somewhat alarming" is what Fauci called a new study from the University of Washington, which found that 30% of people who've had COVID experience persistent symptoms for as long as nine months after their initial illness. That study found that the five most common lingering symptoms were fatigue, loss of smell or taste, headache, trouble breathing, and muscle or body aches. 

Fauci said the NIH hopes to solve a number of mysteries about PASC. Among them: Its underlying biological cause, why some people get the syndrome and some don't, and whether it increases the risk of permanent damage to the body, such as heart or brain disorders. 

"It's very difficult to treat something when you don't know what the target of that treatment is," Fauci said. "There are a lot of important questions with this series of initiatives that we will ultimately answer."

RELATED: 10 COVID Symptoms You Haven't Heard About

How to survive this pandemic

As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Wear a face mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.