Long-term Covid sufferers could find themselves without support if New Zealand does not act quickly to address the disease, an expert warns.
Dr Anna Brooks, a cell immunologist at the University of Auckland, is leading a long-running, crowd-funded Covid research project.
Long Covid is characterized by a range of symptoms including low energy, shortness of breath, persistent cough, brain fog, low mood, joint pain, muscle weakness, rapid pulse, changes in taste and smell and poor sleep.
The condition was given a formal definition by the World Health Organization (WHO) in October last year.
READ MORE: Mild Covid infection can lead to ‘significant’ brain changes
It then indicated that around 10 to 20% of people are affected by long Covid, where symptoms last three months or more after a Covid-19 infection.
It is however too early to say how long Covid will be worse with an Omicron infection.
Brooks told Q+A that while vaccination rates help with long Covid numbers, Omicron is “a bit of a game changer” as it “slightly escapes” the immune system.
“When people show symptoms of this infection, that tells us that there’s probably this extra layer of long probability of Covid. We just have no idea what percentage that’s going to be.”
Brooks’ research draws on the experiences of around 90 participants who are suffering from the ongoing effects of the virus.
Participants provided blood samples before and after vaccination in an effort to learn more about the cause of the long Covid.
“We know that if we put in the resources to understand the mechanisms of this condition, we can put in place treatments to reverse this condition,” Brooks said.
The Department of Health announced this week that more practical advice and guidance on a “rehabilitation framework” for long Covid was being developed by an expert advisory group.
However, when asked about Q+A if there was a risk of New Zealand being caught off guard, Brooks said: “There is a risk if we don’t act quickly that people will be left without support. This It’s no secret that our healthcare system is stretched We’re in the middle of the infectious part All of our healthcare journeys are going to be strained People talk about the long Covid as a multi disorder People talk about a long list of specialists that they end up with This is where it gets really difficult, is because it’s a whole body effect.
“I think we could be in trouble if we don’t act quickly to have some kind of national network where people can know where to go, where to look for help and who knows how long those waiting lists may be. It’s really a fair approach to, if you have these symptoms, how soon will you be seen and will your doctor know about it was the strongest feedback I would say Because we absolutely heard people go to their doctor and get great treatment, but that has to be for everyone and that’s what we don’t hear.”
The department is telling people with long-term Covid to seek help from their GP with the management and treatment of their symptoms, but Brooks said many sufferers have been ‘gassed’ or discharged by their doctors.
Brooks said Q+A rehab pathways are important, but they don’t go far enough.
“What I’m hoping to see is that alongside the rehabilitation pathways, there’s innovation going on and talking with us researchers, connecting with all these people who are on the cutting edge, if you want, to understand the research so that we can act very quickly, so once we know what’s going on biologically, those treatment pathways can be integrated. It’s not just about rehabilitation. We know that it there is an opportunity to treat people, but we have to have the ability to do research so that we can help people get back on their feet, so to speak,” she said.
“I guess what we really want to see happen is for this education to happen in a fair way so that all GPs, anyone who sees patients, understands the spectrum of symptoms, because there’s going to be a tsunami of people, even in the early recovery phase, experiencing these symptoms, and it’s not that common to have tachycardia, shortness of breath and all those things after a viral infection.”
Brooks is not alone in her thinking.
Dr Mona Jeffreys, who co-leads the Ministry-funded study Impacts of Covid-19 in Aotearoa at Victoria University of Wellington, told the Science Media Center earlier this month that there was very little support available for long Covid patients in New Zealand.
“Healthcare professionals are woefully misinformed and patients are left without care,” she said.
Jeffreys said guidance is lacking on what people can do to reduce the risk of long Covid.
“I would like everyone to know, the same way we all know how to use masks, wash hands etc, that if you get Covid please rest until all symptoms are gone. At this point, that’s the only measure we know can reduce your risk, other than, of course, getting vaccinated and boosted, to reduce your risk of getting Covid in the first place.
Dr Bronwyn Lennox Thompson, a pain management expert at the University of Otago, told the Science Media Center that people with long-term Covid in New Zealand would likely have “great difficulty” accessing services. rehabilitation.
“Given that the government has placed most of the management of Covid in the hands of primary care GPs, this means that most people who have had Covid for a long time will find it difficult to get the rehabilitation they need. ”