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A grieving widow and advocate for long Covid sufferers has warned of an impending "explosion" of long Covid which will cripple economies.
As the Omicron variant surges across the world, the long-term consequences for the unlucky minority will be devastating, says American filmmaker Nick Guthe.
He was married to screen writer Heidi Ferrer who had a largely asymptotic case of Covid in 2020. But the infection resulted in a string of debilitating symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, a burning pain in her feet, reduced memory retention, tremors that impeded her sleep and more.
After suffering from long Covid for 13 months, she took her own life.
Speaking to ABC's RN Breakfast on Tuesday, Mr Guthe recounted the extreme difficulty the couple faced over that time.
"It started very mild and got progressively worse," he said.
Mr Guthe works with advocacy group Survivor Corps, which helps research and better understand the wide range of symptoms and experiences associated with long Covid.
He fears that Omicron's immense spread will lead to a wave of 'long-hauler' sufferers.
"I think that in another two to three months, it's going to be an explosion [of long Covid] in the United States because Omicron is racing through our population and by all accounts the percentage of people that develop long Covid is equal to that of Delta and the original strain."
While research is still much needed, some estimates put the instances of long-term symptoms triggered by Covid as high as 30 per cent of cases.
A large dataset from the UK found that more than 13 per cent of people had symptoms after three months, while a much smaller study in Australia put that number at about half that. For the most part, estimates sit between 10 and 30 per cent.
"There is at least a 10 per cent chance ... but I believe the number is closer to 30 per cent," Mr Guthe told the ABC.
"It's going to cripple economies when you have millions of people who cannot go to work, because going to work is physically exhausting."
Today we say goodbye to @GirltoMom who this morning helped save someone else by leading me into my advocacy in her name. Someone very close to me. This day will be hard but we can do hard things. Godspeed, My Love. I’ll see you again in a place where there is no pain, only love. pic.twitter.com/B8i1rvpMXU
— Nick Güthe (@NickGuthe) September 15, 2021
Mr Guthe said he is regularly contacted by others who are enduring something similar to what his wife went through.
"I'm receiving suicidal emails, suicidal DMs on my Twitter and Instagram every day. Every single person who is reaching out to me as the level of symptoms she [his wife Heidi] had."
"They are at their wits end."
In a heart-wrenching essay published over the weekend, Mr Guthe recounted one specific recent case.
"Late last night I got a desperate Twitter message from a man whose wife could be the next Heidi. She has long Covid and was threatening to end her life. She had already told their eight-year-old daughter her plan. I called him immediately," he wrote.
"I knew this man’s terror. Sadly, his call was not an anomaly."
Mr Guthe hopes government will allocate more money and research into developing new therapeutics and finding ways to repurpose existing drugs to help those suffering from chronic symptoms after contracting Covid.
Australian breakthrough slated to help long Covid sufferers
Researchers in NSW have worked to better understand why people endure long-term symptoms after contracting Covid, discovering an immune profile which they believe will help tailor treatment.
The team from the University of New South Wales' Kirby Institute analysed data along with St Vincent's Hospital Sydney.
About 30 per cent of unvaccinated people who contracted Covid-19 and were part of the study experienced long symptoms, they said.
When a person becomes infected with a virus the immune system switches on to eradicate it.
"But what we're seeing with long Covid is that even when the virus has completely left the body, the immune system remains switched on," St Vincent's Hospital's head of infectious diseases Professor Gail Matthews said.
"If you measure the same thing after a standard cough or cold, which we did in this study through one of our control groups, this signal is not there.
"It's unique to sufferers of long Covid."
One of them, Rick Walters from Roseville, said it was good to have scientific validation of the hardship he has been facing.
"At first, I thought I would just get better, but it became apparent that the damage to my lung was permanent, and I became quite anxious," he said.
"I have had some difficulties adjusting to my current health. COVID should not be taken lightly."
No data was collected in the study to determine if different variants such as Omicron would cause the same changes.
Feeling worried or struggling to cope during the coronavirus pandemic? Visit coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au or speak with trained counsellors on 1800 512 348.
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