Long COVID update
While the latest COVID outbreaks do not appear to be filling up our ICU beds, a leading Australian expert suggests there will be consequences as more patients present with symptoms of long COVID.
Epidemiologist, Professor Mary-Louise McLaws from the University of NSW says research shows that a significant proportion of COVID patients will experience post-infection symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and cognitive disturbances that can last for up to six months.
Of course, a post-viral syndrome is not unique to COVID – prolonged post-flu symptoms, for instance are well-described.
However what is new is the increased incidence of this condition associated with COVID and the fact that it usually affects multiple systems including mental health, pulmonary and neurological symptoms in the one patient. It is also important to note that while these symptoms can occur directly after the acute infection they can also develop some time later, meaning that a patient might take some time to realise what they are experiencing are actually COVID sequelae.
The neurological symptoms are particularly concerning and are believed to occur because COVID infection potentially represents a ‘prolonged assault on the brain’, Professor McLaws explained on the Healthed ‘Going Viral’ podcast recently. She said the inflamed neurons directly affect brain functioning causing symptoms such as short-term memory loss even in young people.
Long COVID is known to occur more frequently in males rather than females, and is more likely in older patients and those who get severe disease. Other than that there are still a lot of unknowns associated with this condition.
And while we will be getting more and more data from the real experience of COVID around the world, in the interim our greatest defence is vaccination – and ensuring vaccination coverage of at least 90% not only generally but across each of the age cohorts. As Professor McLaws says, ‘Stay safe’.