Increase in number of Victorians seeking treatment for “long COVID”
It has been over 15 months since she contracted the virus and she is still unable to taste and smell.
Ms. Theilhaber is one of thousands of people around the world who have found themselves with persistent symptoms after contracting COVID-19 in a phenomenon commonly referred to as “long COVID”.
In September, Alfred’s post-COVID clinic began monitoring another 400 patients, who still had symptoms of the disease after testing positive for the virus in July.
Many were young people who got infected before they could get vaccinated. Professor Holland said about a third could make a full recovery without treatment, the rest may require continued support from the clinic.
The demand for post-coronavirus care is expected to increase in Victoria over the coming months as the state continues to report the highest number of infections in the country.
The number of people with post viral illness in Victoria is difficult to quantify as many receive follow-up care through their GPs.
Professor Holland said there was an urgent need for more services to help people cope with brain fog, as well as mental health support for people with long-term COVID, who frequently suffered from the disease. anxiety, depression and signs of post-traumatic stress.
“It is not yet clear how many of these people will need continued cognitive rehabilitation, but the need is now very high,” said the physiotherapy professor.
Ms Theilhaber’s taste temporarily returned recently as she ate a veggie burger with raw onions. The taste of the onions was so intense it made her eyes cry.
In the following days, she would have sporadic times when she could taste raw onions.
“I ate cashews and all I could taste was raw onion,” said the 55-year-old.
In Australia, up to 30% of critically ill COVID-19 patients have reported at least one symptom persistent after six months.
But doctors are seeing more and more young people, who, although not severely infected with the virus, are struggling to shake off waves of debilitating symptoms.
Research suggests that the phenomenon is more common in women, although men are generally more affected by acute COVID-19.
Australian researchers who track patients’ recovery warn that the long-term effects of COVID-19 pose a more serious public health threat than the death toll from the pandemic, foreshadowing a significant increase in the number of people struggling with long-lasting illnesses and disabilities.
Carol Hodgson, of the School of Public Health at Monash University, led a first Australian study of 200 people admitted to intensive care units with COVID-19.
It found that 70% of those polled said they suffered from persistent symptoms six months after being hospitalized.
The research behind the exact mechanisms that trigger the long COVID is still emerging, but Professor Hodgson said the virus causes systemic inflammation that could affect a person’s organs and muscles.
“A lot of people think of the coronavirus as just a respiratory disease, but it affects almost every organ in the body,” Professor Hodgson said.
She is now investigating whether the Delta variant could lead to more serious long-term health consequences.
“We are seeing in hospitals that the Delta is affecting younger, fitter people and patients appear to be more seriously ill, and we wonder if that is going to translate into worse long-term outcomes,” she declared.
For Ms. Theilhaber, there are other unusual symptoms as well. She frequently forgets her phone number and has trouble remembering simple things like how to turn on the Thermomix she had been using for years. “You feel like you’re losing your marbles,” she said.
At Royal Melbourne Hospital, associate professor pulmonologist Lou Irving also runs a post-COVID clinic, where specialist doctors have follow-up appointments with patients who are suffering from persistent symptoms.
Last year, the clinic was monitoring around 120 patients, but about half left the program. They were mostly young, with an average age of around 38 years.
“Our model of care was to listen to patients’ symptoms and validate those symptoms, because this experience can be very distressing for people,” Associate Professor Irving said.
Worryingly, this year Associate Professor Irving is treating a growing number of people infected with Delta who have long-lasting inflammation in their lungs and require continued treatment with steroids.
“It’s too early to say why this is happening, we don’t know if it’s just a different group of patients or if the effects might be different with Delta,” he said. “We keep an open mind.
While evidence still emerges on the long COVID, a recent study found that being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 not only reduces the risk of catching the disease, but also of an infection turning into a long COVID.
“Long COVID can be a bad condition, but there is a reasonable assumption that you are unlikely to get it if you are vaccinated,” Professor Irving said.
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