Tech & Science dictionary


long hauler [ lawng-haw-ler ]

What does long-hauler mean?

A long-hauler is a person who suffers from symptoms of COVID-19 for longer than two weeks, and generally for several months. The experience of such persistent symptoms of COVID-19 are sometimes referred to as long COVID.

More and more people became long-haulers during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. According to a variety of estimates, between 10–20% of people who get infected with COVID-19 can become long-haulers.

How does our 2020 Word of the Year relate to long-hauler? Find out here!

Related words

contact tracing, wet market, virtual school, infodemic, twindemic, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19

Where does long-hauler come from?

The effects of COVID-19—the often severe but acute disease caused by the highly contagious 2019 novel coronavirus—can widely vary for people. Some people never get COVID-19 at all. Others get the disease but are asymptomatic (they never show symptoms but are still contagious). Many millions have recovered from COVID-19 relatively quickly. And tragically, nearly a million have died from the disease around the world as of late September 2020.

Then there are people who come down with COVID-19 but have to live its painful symptoms “for the long haul.” According to the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of COVID-19 generally appear within 2-14 days for most people. Most people also recover by 14 days. This is why people who may be exposed to COVID-19 have to quarantine for 14 days.

But for long-haulers, symptoms have been reported to persist for several months as a part of the experience of so-called “long COVID” or “long-haul COVID.” Some documented long-term symptoms of COVID-19 include heart damage (in the form of myocarditis and pericarditis), constant fever and headaches, and damage to the lungs and brain.

The first major use of the term long-hauler was in an article in The Atlantic by science reporter Ed Yong on June 4, 2020. Yong interviewed several people who suffered persistent symptoms of COVID-19. In the article, Yong credited the term to members of COVID-19 support groups, including one created by journalist and COVID-long-hauler Vonny LeClerc. According to Yong, group members have referred to themselves as both “long-haulers” and “long-termers.” As hinted at above, long-hauler is based on long haul, a relatively long—and often difficult—period of time.

The coronavirus has led to an influx of new and newly prominent terms in our everyday vocabularies. To help keep you informed, we’ve compiled—and explained—a lot of them in our Coronavirus Glossary

Examples of long-hauler

Even so-called mild cases of #COVID19 can be followed by months of debilitating symptoms, says @MountSinaiNYC's David Putrino, who works with "long-haulers." ...
@JohnsHopkinsSPH, September 15, 2020
Early on in the pandemic, a pervasive myth among patients and some health authorities was the idea that Covid-19 was a short-term illness. Only in recent months has more attention been given to long-haulers.
Emma Goldberg, New York Times, September 7, 2020

Who uses long-hauler?

The term long-hauler began spreading on social media after the publication of the Atlantic article.

As 2020 (and the pandemic) went on, many more mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times, Time, and CNN, reported on long-haulers and the difficulties they faced. As discussed in the original Atlantic article, some long-haulers have felt stigmatized by family and medical professionals because their prolonged symptoms don’t conform to the normal experience of the disease as it is currently understood.

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This is not meant to be a formal definition of long-hauler like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of long-hauler that will help our users expand their word mastery.