Last 31 December, Joylakshmi, who is in her mid-40s, attended a New Year’s Eve party hosted by her friend at a Melbourne suburb. The party had a gathering of around 16 people. The next day Joylakshmi felt aches and pains in her limbs. Few days later, it was accompanied by fever, chest congestion and breathlessness. A PCR test confirmed her worst fears, she had contracted COVID.
Except for the fact that Joylakshmi, has had a hysterectomy in the past due to endometriosis, she has had no other health issues. It has been six months now since her first bout of COVID and she experiences very apparent brain fog, fatigue and loss of appetite.
“I also have breathing difficulty as well once in a while especially while I am sleeping,” she rues.
Velentina and Deepak went to India in May to get married. On their return after few weeks, both contracted the virus for the first time. Both showed different symptoms. While Velentina had sore throat, chest pain and body ache, Deepak had fever and body ache. He still has fatigue and Velentina says while her chest pain is slowly waning, she is experiencing hair loss. “My friends are also experiencing hair loss,” she says.
“I just had migraines and body ache and I could not lift my head up. I have never suffered from migraines in my life”
— Nimreichon Jamang
Nimreichon Jamang is a young mother of two in Bendigo. In May, she got COVID-19 and suffered severe migraine for three days. “Funnily, I just had migraines and body ache and I could not lift my head up,” she says, adding, “I have never suffered from migraines in my life.”
Now, she keeps forgetting things. “Sometimes I think it’s the mum brain, but it is quite unusual and persistent. I am often like ‘what am I doing here’ or ‘what did I come here for’. I joke with my husband that maybe I am getting Alzheimer’s.” She still gets the migraines at times and hasn’t been to a GP. As of now, she is taking rest as much as she can.
Young mother Sunita Emerson adds, “A lot of people I know who got COVID-19 initially experienced period of flu-like infection that went on for weeks.”
In her own case, her toddler went through months of multiple infections. “We were told by multiple doctors GPs, emergency doctors that it is common for a child attending Childcare to have up to 12 infections a year, but in our case the infections were just nonstop. We lost count, for months every alternate day the toddler came down with an infection. We finally managed to meet a pediatrician who recommended a thorough blood test to rule out more serious conditions. Treatment is still ongoing for us,” she says. “Also, it is not the same for everyone. The rest of us at home who also caught COVID did not have the same issue.”
“We were told by multiple doctors GPs, emergency doctors that it is common for a child attending Childcare to have up to 12 infections a year, but in our case the infections were just nonstop”
— Sunita Emerson
It is not confirmed that what all the above are experiencing is related to the virus itself, or whether they are among those experiencing long COVID. But anecdotal experiences of others post COVID infection point to the same symptoms.
While the risk of COVID being severe in children is low, a study published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Journal says that children infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus can experience symptoms of long COVID lasting at least two months.
The true number of people affected has so far remained unknown, as has whether the condition is more likely to affect men or women, according to an article published by The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
“Now, new literature review research from the US may fill that gap, backing up recent Australian indications that women are more likely to experience the impact of long COVID,” it says.
So, what is long COVID and what are the signs?
According to the Department of Health and Aged Care, a person experiences long COVID when their symptoms remain four weeks after they first had COVID. Different timeframes are used to determine it.
“Long COVID can make people to feel unwell for many weeks, or months, and even after they no longer have COVID-19. Some symptoms of long COVID include extreme tiredness, coughing, breathlessness, problems with memory and concentration.”
The World Health Organization says it is “usually three months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms and that last for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis”.
Even people who had a mild COVID-19 infection and did not need to go to hospital can still have long COVID, it says.
Common signs and symptoms that can continue after people first become infected are:
- difficulty breathing
- a persistent cough
- chest pain
- joint pain
- not enough energy to exercise
- problems with memory and difficulty thinking clearly (‘brain fog’)
- depression or anxiety.
Role of vaccination
The Department of Health states that COVID-19 vaccines can help reduce the chance of experiencing long COVID. One must keep up to date with one’s COVID-19 vaccines to help protect oneself from long COVID.
When many people get vaccinated against COVID-19, it lowers the risk of the virus spreading in the community. This leads to fewer people getting infected by COVID-19, which reduces the number of people who experience long COVID, states the Health Department.
In the same vein, Professor Gregory Dore, Head, Viral Hepatitis Clinical Research Program, Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney, says prevalence of long COVID is impacted by vaccination rather than different strains of the virus.
Professor Dore also says that the theory that the Omicron variant carries a lower risk of long COVID is less likely.
At the start of the pandemic, an estimated 10 to 30 percent of unvaccinated COVID patients developed long Covid. For people infected now, the risk that they will still have symptoms in three months’ time has reduced to around five per cent, according to the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcaster’s Council Multilingual News Service.
The government advises that if you have questions, speak to your doctor, go to health.gov.au/covid19-vaccines-languages, or call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080. For interpreting services, call 131 450.
The challenge is real. And research is underway. Doctors are warning that Australia is facing a surge in long COVID-19 cases, according to media reports.
The pandemic has seen people divided into all kinds of categories—those that believe in what doctors, scientists and experts say, others who choose to pay deaf ears, and yet some others with long COVID symptoms.
What is of concern though is that “long COVID might even become Australia’s most significant cause of longer-term disability”, warns experts from the University of Sydney in an article.
“Around eight million Australians are estimated to have been infected with COVID during the pandemic, so a prevalence of 5 per cent means 400,000 people could have long COVID. With more than 30,000 new cases of COVID detected each day in Australia, long COVID is becoming increasingly common.”
The fact remains, long COVID is new. Omicron variants are staggeringly infectious. The pandemic is not behind us, and people’s sufferings are real. Therefore, further and more research is crucial going forward.
The Indian Sun acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.
Connect with Indira Laisram on Twitter
A person experiences #longCOVID when their symptoms remain 4 weeks after they first had COVID. Different timeframes are used to determine it. A look at how #Melburnians are defining their struggle against long COVID. #TheIndianSun @indira_laisram https://t.co/7pIghZyX2f
— The Indian Sun (@The_Indian_Sun) August 3, 2022