Caring for ‘long Covid’ patients

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has released new guidelines to help healthcare professionals care for patients with post-Covid-19 conditions, commonly called ‘long Covid’.

The condition of long COVID, now officially recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO), refers to a range of symptoms that can last for months after the initial Covid-19 illness.

The ongoing effects remain unknown, and prolonged illness could potentially last for years.

The symptoms can be very debilitating and include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Breathlessness.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Chest pain.
  • ‘Brain fog’.
  • Changes to taste and smell.

The Caring for patients with post-COVID-19 conditions resource provides advice and support and encourages the development of individualised plans for their ongoing management.

It includes information on:

  • Identifying patients at higher risk of post-Covid-19 conditions including those who have experienced severe illness during their acute Covid-19 illness
  • Arranging a time with the patient to discuss how to monitor and manage their symptoms at home
  • Escalating care for “red flag” symptoms such as unexplained chest pain
  • Accessing multidisciplinary care and patient support services in the community.

Take long Covid seriously

RACGP President Dr Karen Price says that long Covid needs to be taken extremely seriously.

“Unfortunately, post-Covid-19 conditions have flown under the radar,” says Dr Price.

“Just because you recover from the initial illness, that does not mean you are out of the woods.

“As I have been saying for many months, it might not be the end of your Covid-19 story – it could just be the beginning.

“Throughout 2021, there was so much media attention paid to the very rare risks of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS, as well as myocarditis and pericarditis following Covid-19 vaccination.

“However, many people are not aware that long Covid can severely disrupt your quality of life, your job or study, your relationships and your long-term health and wellbeing.

“Some people with long Covid are struggling to walk up a flight of stairs months after having the virus.

“This should act as an extra impetus for all eligible people to get vaccinated right away.

“If you are still weighing up whether to be vaccinated or not remember that if you contract the virus, you may also suffer from long Covid symptoms for weeks or even months post-illness.

“This isn’t just a rare problem for older people too, young people can also experience long Covid.”

Citing a study conducted in the United Kingdom, Dr Price explains that within the study that included 20,000 people, of those “who had tested positive to Covid-19, 13.7% reported having symptoms 12 weeks after acute infection”.

“Studies indicate that the risk of post-Covid symptoms in people who contract the virus after their second dose of a Covid-19 vaccine is approximately halved,” says Dr Price.

“So please, if you haven’t already, get vaccinated and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

“The ramifications of not doing so could prove disastrous for your long-term health.”

Key information provided 

Dr Price says that the guidelines released by the RACGP are a useful resource for the nation’s practices caring for patients with long Covid.

“The guide provides key information on assessing patients for long Covid after their initial illness, providing education on symptom monitoring and management and linking patients to appropriate multidisciplinary services, allied health and support services,” she says.

“It also addresses considerations when providing care for specific groups recovering from Covid-19 including patients who have had severe Covid-19 illness requiring hospitalisation, older patients, people with disability, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients, children and babies.

“As is always the role of the GP, caring for patients with long Covid is not just about managing the physical symptoms.

“We also support the mental health and wellbeing of patients, and the guide includes information on the mental health impacts of the acute illness, addressing stigmatisation post-Covid-19 infection and acknowledging and validating the patient’s experiences.

“So, there is a lot for GPs and their teams to consider – however, I am confident that practices will continue doing an extraordinary job supporting patients during the pandemic.”

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