Long Covid: Big mistake people are making with coronavirus

·5-min read

One of Australia's top doctors says treating long Covid is emerging as the latest challenge from the pandemic.

People are reporting lingering Covid symptoms longer than four weeks after their infection.

Some of the most common symptoms include extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pains or tightness, heart palpitations, memory or concentration problems, joint and muscle pain and change in taste and smell.

Vice President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Chris Moy, says the "new frontier" of the pandemic is finding treatments for long Covid sufferers.

Despite the research being conducted all over the world, more is needed.

Long Covid is posing a significant risk to everyone. Source: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Long Covid is posing a significant risk to everyone. Source: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

"The bottom line is that although we know that long Covid is going to be the really big fallout of Covid, we still have a significant lack of understanding about the rate of it, and also the mechanisms of action and why some people get it and they die," he told Yahoo News Australia.

Dr Moy said in the UK, a national survey indicated between 3 to 12 per cent of people experienced Covid symptoms up to four weeks after the initial infection.

There are studies that suggest the number of people who experience long Covid could be much higher.

Getting vaccinated against Covid could prevent instances of long Covid by half, but Dr Moy said another recent study suggests 25 per cent of people hospitalised with Covid still have "major symptoms" 12 months on.

What can be done to prevent long Covid?

Your best defence against Covid-19 and long Covid is getting vaccinated.

"There's clear evidence that even if you've had Covid, having a vaccination reduces your risk of getting it again and also getting it severely," Dr Moy said.

He also suggests speaking to a doctor, especially if you are considered to be "high risk", as there are antiviral treatments that could reduce the risk of hospitalisation.

However, there is one thing everyone should do once they get infected with Covid-19.

A healthcare worker prepares Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines in the pharmacy at the Western Health Vaccination Hub in Melbourne, Australia. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself from long covid.
The best way to protect yourself against long Covid is by getting vaccinated and boosted if needed. Source: Bloomberg

When infected, don't try to 'fight' Covid

Dr Moy said people will sometimes try and "fight" an illness, but with Covid, you really need to conserve your energy while you are sick and while you are recovering.

"The general advice now from the clinics is not to fight it, but to conserve your energy for the things you need to do during the day and not to try to fight your way through it," Dr Moy said.

He said the vast majority of people will recover quickly after Covid, but energy should be conserved for doing the essentials.

So in other words, take it easy if you can while you are sick with Covid-19.

Early research from Dr Anna Brooks, a cellular immunologist at the University of Auckland who is leading a major research project on long Covid, indicated that rushing back to strenuous exercise could risk triggering long Covid symptoms. However much more research is needed.

What do we know about long Covid?

One thing we know for sure is that Covid is not just a cold. Instead, Dr Moy said it is a multi-system disorder.

"People think now that because they're vaccinated and we're not seeing as many deaths that it's like the cold," he said.

"But it's not, it's clearly a multi-system disorder and it affects a whole lot of organs, like the brain, the heart, and also particularly the muscles."

Members of the environmental services team clean down a ward after a patient leaves the Red Zone (COVID-19)  in the Emergency Department of St Vincent's Hospital
The risk of having long Covid is significantly higher for people who were admitted to the hospital with Covid. Source: Getty Images

When some people have long Covid, blood tests will reveal inflammatory markers, indicating their bodies are internally inflamed.

Dr Moy added there might be something odd going on with micro-clotting and some part of the Covid virus could be impacting mitochondria and potentially cause long Covid.

"We think that there's some possibility that the virus damages that [mitochondria] — it takes it over to use it to help replicate and that's what causes a lot of the fatigue," he said.

Fortunately, the "new frontier" of treatments to help those with long Covid look to treat inflammation, micro-clotting and medication is being trialled to get mitochondria working again.

Why long Covid should be taken seriously

Dr Moy says in the near future, long Covid is going to be a "massive" issue soon enough and there will be a "fall out".

Beyond the more common symptoms people experience, there are some serious health implications linked to long Covid.

Dr Moy says there is concern surrounding the increased risk of strokes and heart attacks after Covid-19 and he mentioned there's also brain shrinkage linked to even mild cases of Covid.

With the latter, Dr Moy hopes there won't be more people with dementia, who were "borderline" before being infected with Covid.

"Again, I think the message is Covid is not a cold, the effects are clearly much more significant," he said.

Long Covid has the potential to affect more people than just those who experience lingering symptoms, it also has the potential to add stress to the healthcare system.

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