Survey hints at increasing long COVID burden

Matt Woodley

1/11/2022 2:06:16 PM

Half of the nearly 2200 people surveyed by Lung Foundation Australia reported ongoing symptoms more than four weeks after their initial infection.

Woman with long COVID
Sixty per cent of survey respondents reported seeking medical advice or treatment for ongoing symptoms.

A new Lung Foundation Australia report featuring insights from 2196 survey respondents has highlighted gaps in services, information and resources for people with ongoing COVID-19 symptoms.
Half of those surveyed said they experienced ongoing COVID symptoms more than four weeks after their initial infection period, a much higher rate than previous research has indicated.
Sixty per cent of survey respondents also reported seeking medical advice or treatment for ongoing symptoms, adding more evidence to support prior warnings about the potential strain long COVID will place on Australia’s healthcare system.
Support for those with ongoing symptoms has been ‘lacking’, the report says, and there is a strong appetite to address the unmet healthcare needs of people with long COVID.
Meanwhile, those with a pre-existing condition appear to have been significantly impacted, with more than half of those with a lung disease or other chronic condition still experiencing ongoing symptoms at the time of completing the survey.
More than 50% also reported being extremely or very anxious about COVID-19 infections and long COVID, and Melbourne resident Cate Gleeson, who lives with pulmonary arterial hypertension, says more support is needed for this cohort.
‘Being in lockdown was an intense experience and mental health was a huge factor. When I saw those two lines on my test, I was absolutely terrified,’ she said.
‘I’ve found mental health services post-COVID to be invaluable for me, though I know many who don’t have that opportunity for financial reasons.’
Ms Gleeson is still awaiting test results to see whether COVID-19 has caused permanent damage to her lungs but says there are others in an even worse position who are slipping through the cracks.
‘I’m in a position where I consider myself lucky to have recovered from COVID-19 and I feel like I need to advocate for others in my position who weren’t as fortunate,’ she said.
The report outlines 10 key recommendations for information, services and support for recovery and management of ongoing symptoms, including the adoption of a national long Covid definition to enhance data collection and research, as well as investment in the National Preventive Health Strategy.
Respiratory expert and Lung Foundation Australia Board member Professor Christine Jenkins says the recommendations are underpinned by the need to address inequities based on location, health literacy, culture, language, and socio-economic status.
‘There are significant disparities and challenges across Australia that need to be addressed if we are to ensure equitable healthcare for all,’ she said.
‘Seventy-five per cent of respondents representing the Australian community agree the [Federal] Government should increase investment for those experiencing ongoing symptoms, and that is a telling sign of the current gap in support.’
Part of the issue impacting patient care, according to RACGP WA Chair Dr Ramya Raman, is difficulty doctors face when trying to diagnose long COVID without a complete understanding of it. She told the ABC more research is needed to help clinicians.
‘It’s very important, because we are seeing it in the community,’ Dr Raman said.
‘The more we know about it, the better we can actually manage the condition and [be] better informed.’
She is also a supporter of dedicated long COVID clinics that have been established to help patients with ongoing symptoms.
‘The dedicated clinics have been helpful for a lot of my eastern state colleagues, and I think it would be helpful here in Western Australia as well … having the initial screening and the testing being done to actually analyse and review this,’ Dr Raman said.
A Parliamentary inquiry into the impact long COVID is having in Australia was announced in September, but no date has been set as to when it will issue a report to Government.
However, with nearly 10 million COVID cases already recorded nationally so far in 2022 – and the arrival of new, potentially more infectious, variants in Australia – the need for these clinics will likely continue to grow well into the foreseeable future.
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Dr Kenneth John McCroary   2/11/2022 6:14:58 PM

symptoms at 4 weeks is not long covid