Long COVID could cause ‘mass-disabling event’ in Canada, new report warns

Symptoms of long COVID include high blood pressure, fatigue, fever and difficulty of breathing. (Courtesy: Canva)

The world is three years deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, yet there continues to be more to learn about its lingering effects every day. 

New information has surfaced from a report released on Thursday from Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, Dr. Mona Nemer, regarding what goes beyond the disease. She came to the conclusion that there is a head and a tail in COVID-19 and its tail is post-COVID-19 condition (PCC), otherwise known as long COVID. She says long COVID is causing serious damage to individuals, societies and the economy. 

“In Canada, as of August 2022, more than 1.4 million people – or about 15 percent of adults who have contracted COVID-19 – say they experience symptoms three months or more after their initial SARS-CoV-2 virus infection. These include respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological and cognitive impairments and they can be debilitating,” Nemer wrote in the report. 

The report reveals about 10 to 20 per cent of adults who have had COVID-19 experience long COVID. The symptoms are divided into two categories: medically defined and medically undefined. 

People who have medically defined symptoms such as cardiovascular complications, like high blood pressure, typically receive standard of care. However, those who have medically undefined symptoms, such as chronic fatigue and brain fog, are lacking options in care, aside from rehabilitation therapy. 

Additionally, there is also concern that the disease could impact specific organs. Due to the complexity of the condition, international clinical trials are being done to further understand the illness by testing new treatments, and looking into the benefits of existing repurposed medications. 

Nemer says a way to reduce the risk of long COVID is through COVID-19 vaccinations, but this does not completely rule out the risk of developing it. 

READ MORE: COVID-19 triggered a decline in Canadian life expectancy, new data says

Nemer also says long COVID has dire ramifications from a socio-economic perspective.

“PCC has the potential to become a mass-disabling event given the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant in circulation and the unpredictability of evolving future variants,” she said.

 “PCC impacts the labour market, the workplace, and social support programs. The lack of defined diagnostic criteria and treatments together with the modest awareness of the condition is leading to stigma and disbelief, further affecting the mental and physical health of individuals living with PCC and their families,” she added. 

With this in mind, a multidisciplinary task force was established to research and investigate long COVID in Canada. 

The force outlined 18 recommendations aimed at better understanding the condition. Some of the recommendations include the following: developing a long-term research strategy for infection-associated chronic conditions on a federal, provincial and territorial level, building a national clinical care network for long COVID, developing resources and services for people living with the condition, and raising awareness for PCC through outreach, among others. 

As the pandemic continues to spread, long COVID is expected to affect more and more Canadians. By sharing awareness of this growing issue, Nemer says Canadians can make informed decisions and improve their knowledge of long COVID.

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