LOS ANGELES -- Because so many people have dealt with COVID-19 infections, many now view the virus like a common cold or flu.
New research suggests that's far from the truth. With concern over COVID waning, a parallel pandemic is emerging.
"We're still learning about the long term health effects of COVID infections," said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
Dr. Michael Ghobrial with the Cleveland Clinic said they're seeing it more commonly in younger patients.
This comes as doctors across the country are dealing with a growing number of patients who can't shake their initial COVID symptoms or have acquired new symptoms that last for at least a month or more. Some cases have been going on for two years.
"The most described symptoms of long COVID include fatigue, reduced exercise capacity, breathing problems, brain fog and loss of taste or smell," said Ferrer.
Various studies find long COVID, or long haulers syndrome, can strike in all populations.
"It's more in females compared to males. It's also more common in patients who have comorbidities," said Ghobrial.
In a study of several thousand veterans, Ferrer said the new evidence suggests repeated COVID infections increase one's risk for long haul syndrome.
"Many of these disorders were serious and life changing and included stroke, cognition and memory disorders, peripheral nervous system disorders," she said. "The risk of having long term health conditions was three times higher for those infected three times compared to those who were uninfected."
Avoiding infection is the key, and while COVID vaccines and boosters don't always prevent infection, numerous studies find it can reduce the risk of long COVID.
"Those who had two doses of vaccine before getting COVID had an approximately 75% lower chance of getting long COVID," said Ferrer. "While those who got three doses had an 84% lower chance of getting long COVID."
While we have much to learn, Ferrer said getting vaccinated and boosted appears to be one of the simplest ways to significantly reduce your risk.