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Long COVID: Understanding the Latest Findings and Treatment Options

What is long Covid?

Long Covid is a term used to describe a range of symptoms that can occur or persist for weeks or even months after the recovery from an initial COVID-19 infection.

According to the World Health Organization, long Covid (Post Covid-19 condition) is defined as “a range of symptoms that can last up to 12 weeks or more, and which are not explained by an alternative diagnosis.”

  • In Australia 5% – 10% of people with Covid-19 still experienced symptoms after 12 weeks
  • 13% – 47% lower risk of long Covid after 2 doses of Covid-19 Vaccination

(AIHW, 2022)

Vaccination against COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) leads to a much lower risk of long Covid on average. Studies show that long Covid may be less likely in those infected with the the Omicron Covid-19 variant, although this could also be due to the higher vaccination rates when this wave of infections hit. Early research suggests that treatment of acute Covid -19 infection with antivirals and physical activity may lower the risk of long Covid

Common Symptoms of Long Covid

Long Covid is a multisystem illness that can affect nearly all parts of the body. Early research identified over 200 possible symptoms of long Covid, however these may overlap with other pre-existing health condition.

These symptoms may have been present during the initial infection but can also be new onset symptoms following recovery from the original COVID-19 episode. Symptoms can fluctuate over time.

Key risk factors for long Covid

  • Age: Older individuals are more likely to experience long Covid
  • Sex: Women appear to be more likely to experience long Covid than men
  • Severity of initial infection: Those who had more severe COVID-19 symptoms are more likely to experience long Covid
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, are at higher risk for long Covid

Rehabilitation

The symptoms of long Covid vary greatly from person to person and any treatment plan will need to be tailored to the individual and may need the support of a range of health professionals (Respiratory doctors, Occupational Therapists, Speech Pathologists etc).

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians outlines the four C’s of helping someone with long Covid return to work are:

  • Commitment
  • Capacity
  • Commence a plan
  • Check-up

These elements involve establishing a clear and consistent commitment to the worker’s needs, assessing the worker’s capacity to return to work, developing a detailed plan for the worker’s return to work, and regularly checking in on the worker’s progress to ensure successful reintegration into the workplace.

The long-term impact of long Covid is not yet fully understood, but there are concerns that it may lead to chronic health issues for some individuals. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report notes that “some studies suggest that up to 30% of people with long Covid may not return to their pre-COVID-19 health status, while others suggest that up to 10% of people may have symptoms that persist for longer than 12 weeks.”

Sources:

WHO Factsheet – Post Covid-19 Condition

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare – Long COVID in Australia – a review of the literature

RTW Matters – The ‘Four Cs’ of supporting workers with long Covid symptoms return to work

Australian Department of Health – Getting help for Long Covid

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