As most of Australia now finds itself in lockdown, with cases continuing to climb in NSW, doctors are now raising concerns about another development within the global pandemic, that of the condition known as “long Covid.” For those who have had the coronavirus, amongst them is an unlucky group who may have thought they’d recovered from the disease only to find themselves with an array of symptoms weeks or months later.
It’s a development that has baffled health authorities, with scientists unable to determine how many people have suffered from the lingering symptoms or just why they occur in some and not others. But as the delta variant continues to wreak havoc in local communities across Australia, health authorities are now warning about the risk of long Covid, believing it’s important for people to be aware of the possibility and to understand the warning signs attached to the condition. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about “long Covid.”
What is long Covid?
Doctors refer to the condition as PASC: post-acute sequelae of Covid-19. Otherwise known colloquially as “long Covid”, the syndrome can affect nearly every organ system in the body, occasionally even causing debilitating effects. Currently, no standardised clinical definition exists.
What triggers long Covid?
There are a number of theories surrounding what causes long Covid, with some suggesting remnants of the Sars-CoV-2 virus linger in the body, in reservoirs like the gut, and aren’t able to be fully cleared by the immune system, which results in a chronic inflammatory response. Others believe Covid-19 triggers an atypical immune reaction that lasts beyond the virus’s presence in the body.
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What are the symptoms?
According to research conducted by Assistant Professer Ziyad Al-Aly, director of clinical epidemiology at the Veterans Affairs St Louis Health Care System in the US, those with long Covid tend to present respiratory signs and symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, and low blood oxygen. Other bodily systems were also affects, including the lungs, brain, heart, liver and skin.
Researchers found evidence of a wide range of effects, including cardiac and lung damage, sleep problems, memory issues, mental health disorders and skin rashes. People with long Covid also had increased rates of new prescriptions for painkillers, drugs for depression and anxiety, and blood pressure and diabetes medications.
As Professor Gail Matthews suggests, “The symptoms are very much what we would link to a post-viral syndrome, with quite intense fatigue that comes and goes, headaches, brain for [and] a variety of other generally quite nonspecific symptoms.”
How long can it last?
While health authorities recognise there isn’t enough research on long Covid yet to reach a decisive answer, it does bear close links to Sars. For many survivors of Sars, fatigue symptoms persisted even four years after they were first infected. According to a 2009 study of more than 200 Sars survivors, 27 per cent met the clinical criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome.
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Who is most at risk of getting long Covid?
Research into long Covid has found the condition occurs more frequently in people who are older and have a higher BMI, as well as those whose initial Covid infections were more severe. Women are also disproportionately affected and tend to suffer from more autoimmune diseases and autoimmune phenomena than men. Still, those affected may simply be down to factors like hormones, immune status, genetic background and nutrition.
One study in Italy found that more than half of Covid-19 patients aged 6 to 16 had at least one symptom of long Covid for more than four months, with many experiencing symptoms severe enough to impair their daily activities, according to Dr. Christina Ghaly, the LA County health services director. A study from the United Kingdom found that of teenagers infected with the coronavirus, 15 per cent suffered from long Covid symptoms that interfered with their daily lives.
Can vaccines prevent long Covid?
Researchers have said long Covid is extremely unlikely to occur in someone who is fully vaccinated. If the body is exposed to the coronavirus after vaccination, the immune system is primed to generate an organised response, adapting to fight the virus. This organised response tends to resolve symptoms quickly. As a result, if the virus can’t get into your system and start replicating, then it won’t get the chance to get to the point where you might translate into having long-haul symptoms.
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