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90 days after coronavirus diagnosis, 32-year-old still has symptoms: 'So frustrating'

Although Melanie Montano lives with asthma, she said, "It should not take 93 days to really recover from something that's just the flu."
/ Source: TODAY

For months now, one of most confounding aspects of the coronavirus for medical professionals has been its wide range of symptoms — both the symptoms of COVID-19 themselves and their varying degrees of severity.

The World Health Organization estimates about 16% of people with COVID-19 never develop symptoms (but can still infect others). While others, like 32-year-old Melanie Montano, feel sick for weeks or even months after they test positive. Montano shared her story with Al Roker on TODAY's 3rd Hour.

Montano first noticed her COVID-19 symptoms in late February. In mid-March, she tested positive. More than 90 days after that, she still has trouble breathing, loss of taste and smell and fatigue, which comes "in waves," she said.

Answering Al's question about how doctors recommend she treat her symptoms, she said, "The problem is there really is not a recommendation ... It's so new that we don't really know how to intercept what's going on."

"I've gone to my pulmonologist, my primary care physician, and ... really there's no answer, which is why it's so frustrating," she added.

Montano went on to explain that as a young person, she's been surprised by how long her condition has persisted and noted that her doctor was skeptical that her initial symptoms were COVID-19.

"I do have an underlying condition. I am asthmatic, but in the same vein, it should not take 93 days to really recover from something that's just the flu, as people seem to consider it to be," she said.

As a result, Montano has "learned to be an advocate, to speak up for this," she told Al, and she's found support in an online group of young people who've also had long-lasting symptoms. Other survivors have also found validation in online support groups, NBC News previously reported.

"It's really nice to have a community, and I believe it's almost 5,000 strong of people ... within a 25- to 45-year-old bracket," Montano said. "That's not the stereotype of what's associated with it."

Offering advice for young people who believe they might have the coronavirus, she said, "I would just say be an advocate ... (This virus) is very abnormal, so if you feel these symptoms, I advocate for people to really pursue what next steps are and to not get discouraged."

Montano also addressed the challenge of testing. She tested negative in May, even though her symptoms continued.

While Montano's experience may seem unusual, doctors have suspected for weeks that COVID-19 can have a long-term impact on patients' health.

TODAY previously reported that people who develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury due to infection, and had to be hospitalized in the intensive care unit are more likely to have diminished lung function afterward.

Another study out of China found that about 20% of patients had heart damage during hospitalization, and International Society of Nephrology said up to 50% of people with severe disease develop kidney abnormalities. Other research suggests more than one-third of patients may experience dizziness, headache and taste and smell impairment for an indefinite period of time.