Shortness of breath, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, anxiety – these are just four symptoms on the long list of remaining symptoms after a Covid-19 infection, also known as Long Covid symptoms. After an acute covid 19 disease, the symptoms often persist for a long time. “It is not uncommon for us to see patients recover, but then develop symptoms again after one to two weeks,” knows Prof. Dr Michael Pfeifer, President of the DGP German Society for Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine. “If these symptoms last longer than three months, it is called post-Covid syndrome.” 10-20 per cent of sufferers are affected. “Patients complain of shortness of breath even at the slightest exertion, followed by a state of extreme exhaustion. Many also suffer from sleep and memory disorders or even heart pain. They are hardly able to go about a normal daily life and many become unable to work.”
Younger people in particular, who are suddenly torn from their professional lives because they can no longer perform, are psychologically burdened with increasing feelings of anxiety. “Will I get fired, for not performing well in my job? How will I be able to afford my living? How will I be able to pay back my study loans? Will I ever overcome this situation and be able to go back to work?”
How do European countries deal with Long Covid?
Half a year ago the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a report. It revealed that that European countries are struggling to combat Long COVID-19. The report says nations across the continent have failed to implement the consistent ‘surveillance’ which is vital to the identification and treatment of the condition.
While most European countries now have COVID-19 data surveillance systems that record the total number of cases, deaths, hospital admissions and intensive care unit admissions, the report’s authors were unable to find any details of specific data streams for Long COVID-19. They were also unable to find many examples of widespread accessible multidisciplinary services for Long COVID-19 that were available to communities in European countries outside the UK.
In England, the National Institute for Care Excellence (NICE) outlined a set of guidelines. Because of the complex nature of the condition, NICE advises that “assessment and management should be tailored to the individual’s problems, after excluding any coexisting illness that may be giving rise to the symptoms reported.” Also a large Imperial College study estimates that some 2 million adults in the country may be suffering from long COVID. One-third of people who were either confirmed or suspected to have been infected by the coronavirus reported “persistent symptoms at 12 weeks,” researchers found.
The German Society for Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine has now published a guideline how to therapy Long Covid patients (https://www.awmf.org/leitlinien/detail/ll/020-027.html). It is to be regularly adapted and revised according to the latest state of knowledge. For the time being, however, doctors can now fall back on recommendations for action with which they can ease their patients’ fears and hold out the prospect of an improvement in their complaints. Also, some larger university hospitals are offering special consultation hours for patients with long-term complaints, but the report says these services aren’t widespread across the country.
Several hospitals have created post-COVID-19 wards for rehabilitation of those who experienced prolonged admissions to ICU. Other services include those by AbilityAmo, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing rehabilitative interventions for post-COVID disability and fragility.
Hradec Kralove teaching hospital has set up a specialized post-COVID-19 care center to look after Long COVID-19 patients with residual symptoms three months after their acute infection. The care center provides a multidisciplinary team of medical experts.
Hospitals and primary care centres provide COVID-19 patients with guidance on respiratory and physical rehabilitation to face the consequences of Long COVID-19. In Belgium, France and Portugal, specific services are mainly developed for coronavirus patients who were hospitalized but there are no dedicated Long COVID-19 programs or services.
What’s the reaction of the European Commission?
However, so far, no long COVID treatment has been validated by a randomized clinical trial. That’s something scientists want to change. The European Commission announced in May it would accelerate research into the condition and seek to develop treatments as part of its therapeutics plan. It pledged to have five medicines approved to treat COVID-19 by the end of the year, although it didn’t specify if any of these will apply to long COVID.
How can you prevent being a Long Covid patient?
Follow the hygiene measures set by your country to contain the coronavirus. Wear masks, wash your hands more often and more importantly: GET VACCINATED!
Are you interested in this topic?
Participate in our ELfR working group Health. You will find more information here:
The opinions on this blog are of the authors themselves and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of ELfR.