Keep potential impact of ‘long Covid’ front of mind

For those making informed decisions about the Covid-19 vaccination, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging people to consider the impact of contracting Covid-19 on their long-term health.

‘Long Covid’ is a broad term referring to a range of symptoms that can last for weeks or months after the initial illness.

At this stage, the ongoing effects remain unknown, and prolonged illness could potentially last for years.

The symptoms can be very serious and include:

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

RACGP President Dr Karen Price says that the long-term health consequences of contracting Covid-19 needed to feature prominently in patient decision-making.

“When making an informed decision on getting vaccinated, patients must have long Covid front of mind,” says Dr Price.

“Throughout the vaccine rollout, there has been a disproportionate focus on the extremely rare risk of blood clots resulting from the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“There has also, of course, understandably been a lot of attention paid to tragic deaths from Covid-19. This is not just a disease that affects older people, one recent death in Sydney was a student in her 30s.

“However, many patients are unaware of how serious long Covid is. Just because you have survived Covid-19 that does not mean you are out of the woods, serious symptoms may persist for months, or even indefinitely.

“Long Covid symptoms, including serious neurological, cardiac and psychiatric issues, can severely compromise your quality of life and we do not have a full picture of what it will mean for patients in the years ahead.

“Younger people may feel they face less risk from Covid-19, but we know young people, including children, can suffer from long Covid.

“So please consider what long Covid could mean for your quality of life, your job, your relationships with loved ones and your long-term health and wellbeing.

“The decision-making matrix must change and my message to all patients is straightforward – this needs to be taken seriously.

“There are reports of ‘long-haulers’, including young and otherwise healthy people, requiring long-term medical care, struggling psychologically, unable to work or even walk up a flight of stairs without pausing multiple times to catch their breath,” says Dr Price.

Dr Price adds that raising public awareness of the risks of long Covid could help boost the pace of the vaccine rollout.

“We need to shift the conversation and change the way patients are assessing their health risks,” says Dr Price, adding that time is of the essence.

“We are now in the winter months, and this is the time of year when we know that this virus has a greater chance of taking hold of communities,” she said.

“The highly transmissible Delta variant is so much harder to control and what is currently happening in Sydney could happen elsewhere without warning.

“If you think you are immune because you live in a community that hasn’t had Covid-19 cases, you are playing a dangerous game – especially if you are aged over 60.

“So please, when making your decision on getting vaccinated don’t just focus on blood clots. Consider what could happen if you contract Covid-19, because even once you recover from the initial illness that might not be the end of your Covid-19 story – it could be just the beginning.”

An RACGP resource on caring for adult patients with post-Covid conditions can be found here.

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