It is hard, while in the midst of a pandemic, to look to the future and to what our health might be like once this is all behind us. But it is wise to do so.
In the first instance, it is important to do all we can to avoid infection with COVID-19. As well as the direct impact from the COVID-19 infection, and the risk of serious disease, we now know that many people who contract COVID-19 can experience effects that can linger for months – and possibly longer – after a person has been cleared of the virus.
This is because of a syndrome that has become known as “long COVID” and it is believed to affect up to one in 10 people who contract COVID-19.
Think extreme tiredness and fatigue. Think “brain fog”, where forming clear thoughts is difficult. Think persistent shortness of breath. Think lack of physical endurance. And, particularly worryingly, think depression.
All these symptoms can occur after a person has recovered from COVID-19 infection.
What do we know about how we can reduce the risk of “long COVID”?
The COVID-19 vaccines available in Australia are highly effective at reducing the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.
Widespread vaccination rates against COVID-19 also reduce the risk of community transmission of the virus – in turn reducing the number of people who are infected which reduces the number experiencing “long COVID”.
The more transmissible nature of the COVID-19 Delta variant means there is now a greater risk of more people becoming infected – and hence a greater risk of people developing the “long COVID” syndrome.
It is outbreaks of this Delta strain of the coronavirus that the population in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory is trying so hard to now suppress.
The key is getting vaccinated – if you are eligible and haven’t yet done so – and following the public health orders your state or territory government has put in place.
We are learning more all the time about COVID-19 and its variants. It is important that we get our information from credible sources and from those with expertise in preventing illness and death from this disease – not from scaremongers spreading misinformation.
I encourage you to seek information from credible sources, including your own trusted GP, and our website.
“Long COVID” is one of the long-term consequences of this pandemic, which may persist well into the future. There are other consequences, and the good news is, they are not all bad.
It is clear the pandemic has had a transformative impact on the way health and medical services will be delivered in Australia, going forward.
For instance, the uptake of telehealth and other digital health initiatives, by both healthcare practitioners and their patients, has been rapid and positive – and will likely remain an important part of future health care delivery in our country.
There is also no doubt our population knows a lot more about epidemiology, virology and vaccines than was the case pre-pandemic, and this will help us over the coming years to tackle the spread of other infectious diseases.
But there are also going to be serious health challenges in the future.
The need for mental health services has been exacerbated by the impact of job losses and business closures, and the impact of isolation and quarantine measures on many members of our population.
And there is also the potential that some people will become seriously unwell from entirely preventable causes due to disruptions to healthcare caused by the pandemic, with people having avoided or delayed medical consultations, especially during lockdowns.
Please do not put off appointments with your doctor about new health concerns, and please keep your appointments for both preventive interventions, like cancer screening and other immunisations, as well as your regular appointments if you have a chronic health condition, like diabetes or hypertension.
And please do not delay appointments for pregnancy care, childhood immunisation, dental care, and mental healthcare. These appointments help keep you healthy and prevent future health problems.
It’s understandable, given the disruption COVID-19 has caused to all our lives, that people are focused on the coronavirus.
But this should not be at the expense of continuing to receive vital health and medical treatment.