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Long covid questions lingerxxxx

A just-released report has found that one in five participants in a major New Zealand study experienced long covid symptoms after covid infection and that one in 10 continued to experience symptoms for more than three months following an acute infection.

But although Ngā Kawekawe Mate Korona | Impacts of COVID-19, which is based on a survey of 990 people who caught covid before December 1, 2021, marks an important start, local experts say much more research into the impact of long covid is needed.

The World Health Organisation [WHO] has said the condition occurs in individuals after a confirmed covid-19 infection and is usually assessed three months from the initial onset if symptoms can’t be explained by an alternative diagnosis.

The condition features a wide range of symptoms, which may only appear after recovery or could persist from the initial illness.

Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, post-exercise exhaustion, and cognitive dysfunction that’s commonly described as “brain fog”.

There is no official record of how many people in New Zealand are suffering from long covid.

The Ministry of Health is not currently collating data because “long covid is a relatively new condition and our ability to identify and record cases is still evolving”.

However, potential cases are now being recorded by clinicians, with “active support” from the ministry in “identifying and managing” the condition.

In August, the ministry introduced new clinical codes for long covid. “Over time this will allow us to build a clearer picture of the impact of the condition in New Zealand,” a spokesperson said.

After consulting with other Wairarapa clinicians, a Masterton Medical spokesperson told the Times-Age that long covid is not something medical professionals are seeing much of in the region.

It’s impossible to quantify whether there are large numbers of undiagnosed cases in Wairarapa.

Since the start of the pandemic, the region has recorded 20,470 cases of covid-19.

However, according to Wairarapa-based epidemiologist Roger Morris, the case numbers recorded by the Ministry of Health are no longer reliable, due to a drop in people either testing or registering their results.

And that’s not the only unknown, he said: “Because long covid needs a longer follow-up period to understand what happened to people, there are not a lot of scientific studies yet available.”

Otago University emeritus professor Warren Tate, who specialises in chronic fatigue syndrome [CFS] and long covid, estimates 2500 people are likely to have long covid in Wairarapa.

“Based on research from the USA, where about 20 per cent of covid cases are thought to have developed long covid, the number in New Zealand would be around 300,000, which seems like a huge amount.”

WHO confirmed the new illness in October 2022, which Tate said was very quick considering the pandemic had begun less than three years before.

Tate also regards the diagnosis window for long covid as rather short.

“The diagnosis of long covid can be made after three months, but CFS cannot be made until six months,’ he said.

“It’s frustrating to me that WHO came up with three months. Patients see their clinicians because they think they’re suffering from long covid after less than six months, while their body is still reaching the full state of recovery.”

Tate said long covid should usually clear up in 12 months, although research linked to CFS indicates some people could develop life-long disabilities.

He said people are more likely to recover from long covid if they rest.

“After six weeks, if they’re still suffering symptoms, they need to give their body a chance to get back to a normal state. If you put the body under stress, you’ll be slower to recover.”

Current treatments for long covid include anti-inflammatories, paracetamol, vitamin supplements, and occupational therapy.

Royal College of General Practitioners medical director Bryan Betty hopes further research will clarify ongoing unknowns.

“The thing with long covid is there’s a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

“Currently, there is no blood test or swab to confirm whether a person has long covid.”

And while the cluster of symptoms associated with the condition includes anxiety and depression, Betty notes it’s still unknown whether these two manifestations are actual long covid symptoms or if the constant pain and fatigue lead to mental distress.

“Anyone with persistent symptoms, aches, recurring headache, could experience a big impact on their mental health,” he said.

Helen Holt
Helen Holt
Helen Holt is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age and enjoys reporting on a variety of topics, regularly covering Wairarapa events, tourism, local businesses, and the occasional health story.

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