COVID may not dominate the headlines as it did in 2020 and 2021, but it remains a serious health issue. We are no longer given daily updates advising us of case numbers or the death toll. But those unlucky enough to contract COVID can suffer the full spectrum of consequences. These range from few or no symptoms through to loss of life. And within that range comes long COVID.
Long COVID remains somewhat elusive in terms of an accurate definition. For those who experience it, though, a lack of strict definition makes it no less real. That reality can include a loss of life quality comparable to stage 4 cancer, according to newly published research.
The study from the University College of London and the University of Exeter identified fatigue as a significant factor. It found long COVID fatigue to be more debilitating for some than it is for those with other life-altering diseases. These include inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and even stage 4 lung cancer.
Long COVID in a nutshell
Defining long COVID in a nutshell has proven to be no easy task, even for experts specialising in the disease. Online health news website Medical News Today (MNT) narrows the parameter somewhat with its description:
“Long COVID is a syndrome that occurs after an acute infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Symptoms of long COVID persist for at least 12 weeks following acute infection.”
MNT’s definition avoids mentioning what those symptoms are, but the most commonly reported ones are fatigue and ‘brain fog’.
Those most at risk include people with obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic lung disease, and depression.
The UK study took in 3754 adults diagnosed with ‘post-COVID-19 syndrome’ (long COVID). Its aim was to assess the impact of symptoms on health-related quality of life. The vast majority (94 per cent) of participants were of working age.
Over half (51 per cent) of them had missed one or more days of work over the previous four weeks. Worryingly, 20 per cent of the participants were unable to work at all because of their symptoms.
Prevention beats cure
In terms of treatment of long COVID, the jury is very much out. The new study points towards fatigue as playing a major role in the functional impairment of sufferers. As such, the authors advocate a greater focus by post-COVID-19 assessment services on assessing and treating fatigue. This would help maximise the recovery and return to work rates of sufferers, they argue.
Further studies over time will likely clarify the mechanisms of long COVID and identify more effective treatments. However, a far better outcome for all individuals would be to avoid contracting COVID in the first place.
The fact that it no longer dominates the news cycle does not mean COVID’s effects can’t dominate your life. Avoiding fatigue symptoms that are equal to or worse than serious diseases such as cancer seems like a pretty good idea.
To that end, many of the preventative measures that became mandatory in the early days of the pandemic remain effective. You don’t have to wear a mask when you board a train or shop at the supermarket. If you do, though, you are almost certainly lowering your risk of contracting COVID.
And then there is vaccination. You may have noticed recent media campaigns encouraging Australians to get booster shots. If you’ve had COVID or a booster shot in the past six months, another vaccination dose is recommended.
A short trip to get vaccinated is surely better than suffering the effects of long COVID.
Is COVID no longer at the front of your mind? Have you been neglecting to take appropriate measures such as wearing masks and keeping vaccinations up to date? Let us know in the comments section below.
Also read: Vitamin deficiency linked to long COVID risk
Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.