Top 3 questions – What is long COVID, is it becoming more common, do vaccines reduce your chance of getting it

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Michael Kidd, answers the Top Three questions across our channels.

Date published:
General public

Hello. My name is Professor Michael Kidd. I'm Deputy Chief Medical Officer with the Australian Government Department of Health. I'm speaking to you from Ngunnawal country and I'd like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land where I am today and where you are today, and to pay my respects to Elders, past and present, including 20 Elders joining us on today's top 3.

So, what I'd like to focus on today is Long COVID. Firstly, what is Long COVID? Well, Long COVID is where people have been infected with COVID-19 and then develop symptoms which lasts for four weeks or more after the initial infection. And we're seeing an increasing number of people developing chronic symptoms after COVID-19 infection. Long COVID seems to affect between 10 to 30% of people who've been infected with COVID-19. But some people are affected more than others. The symptoms of Long COVID can be varied and they can vary from person to person. Some of the common symptoms include tiredness which is persistent, fatigue especially when people exert themselves either physically or mentally. Some people experience respiratory or heart symptoms, for example, shortness of breath, persistent cough, palpitations where your heart feels like it's running very quickly. And some people develop neurological symptoms. One of the most common is a difficulty concentrating. What's often called brain fog, where people just are unable to think clearly. Other people may develop headaches or have difficulty sleeping. And people can also have disturbance of their gastrointestinal system with symptoms of nausea or diarrhoea. So, lots of different symptoms which can present as this group of conditions which we know under the name of Long COVID.

So, the second question is who is likely to get Long COVID? Now, Long COVID can affect anybody who's been infected with COVID-19. There's research underway in Australia and around the world to try and better understand who is more likely to be at risk of developing symptoms of Long COVID. What we do know is that people who have not had any vaccines against COVID-19 or people who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 may be at increased risk of developing Long COVID. We also know that people who have become seriously unwell with COVID-19 and especially those who have been hospitalised, are at increased risk of developing Long COVID. And so are people with certain chronic health conditions. So, how do you prevent Long COVID? The best way to prevent it is by not getting infected with COVID-19. So, doing all you can to prevent infection from occurring. And that, of course, includes wearing a mask when you're in areas that you may be at close contact with other people, good hand hygiene, all the measures that we've been putting in place over the last couple of years. But also, vaccination is a good protection against the risk of developing Long COVID because people who are vaccinated are less likely to develop the symptoms of Long COVID.

The third question is about the treatments for Long COVID. And the first thing to say is that diagnosis can be difficult and treatment will be individual depending on the symptoms which people are experiencing. Now, you may see your general practitioner and get support and advice about managing the symptoms that you're experiencing if you have Long COVID. Some people benefit from a multidisciplinary team approach where a group of doctors, GPs and specialists as well as nurses, physiotherapists, dieticians, psychologists, all come together to help to support people who are experiencing a range of symptoms related to Long COVID. Just this week, South Australia has become the fourth state and territory in Australia to set up a special clinic for people with Long COVID. We already have special clinic in the ACT and clinics in New South Wales and Victoria and there's more focus and attention being put into Long COVID as we see more and more people being diagnosed with COVID-19. In Australia, we expect there'll be more cases of Long COVID are being detected as well. One of the things which may be very helpful if you're experiencing Long COVID, as well as working with your GP or with other health care providers, is to talk to a counsellor, to a psychologist or another counsellor. And this can help to get a better understanding of how you're feeling and responding to the symptoms of Long COVID. It may help you to deal with some of the uncertainty that exists around this condition. Many people recover completely from symptoms of Long COVID within 4 weeks or so, but we are starting to see people who have symptoms which can last for 12 months or more, and these people may well benefit from that multidisciplinary approach that I described earlier.

So, my messages remain the same as they always are. It's very important to be vaccinated. Vaccination not only helps to prevent you from becoming seriously unwell from COVID-19, but it will reduce your risk of developing Long COVID. And also, if you do get infected with COVID-19 and if you're eligible, please reach out to your GP for oral antiviral treatments which may prevent you becoming seriously unwell. And make sure that you're doing all you can to prevent onward transmission of COVID-19 by staying home and get tested if you develop symptoms. Thanks, everybody.

Top 3 questions

  1. What long COVID is and what we know about it.
  2. If long COVID is becoming more common.
  3. If vaccines reduce the likelihood of getting long COVID.

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