Long-haul COVID-19: Some still experiencing symptoms more than 18 months later, B.C. doctor says

It’s two years into the COVID-19 pandemic and infection rates are falling in B.C., but some people who tested positive for the disease early on are still dealing with long-term symptoms.

CTV Morning Live spoke with Dr. Zach Schwartz Wednesday, who leads the post-COVID recovery clinic at Vancouver General Hospital, about the latest information on long COVID-19 cases and possible treatment people might need.

“We are still seeing some individuals, unfortunately, who are dealing with more than 18 months or two years of symptoms, and that’s obviously very troubling to see,” Schwartz told CTV Morning Live.

Schwartz said most of the people they’ve tracked through the recovery clinic have shown at least some improvement, but there are some individuals who “seem to have stalled and not recovered” as expected.

Schwartz explained those who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are more likely to experience long-term symptoms and that vaccination helps reduce the risk of developing persisting symptoms.

The most common lasting symptoms are fatigue, breathlessness and persistent cough despite treatment. Beyond physical symptoms, Schwartz also said neuropsychiatric impacts like brain fog, difficulty concentrating and insomnia that appear to be staying for some.

“It’s a very interesting time in the pandemic from our perspective,” Schwartz said, explaining that a lot of new research is coming out now.

“We previously had a fairly good sense of what these long-haulers are presenting with over the first three to six months, but we’re starting to get some data right now on some of the long-term complications and perhaps implications of having the disease.”

Some of that research, Schwartz said, shows increased risk of developing other health concerns like diabetes or heart disease months after having a COVID-19 infection.

Schwartz hopes the research helps advance treatment and responses to other chronic diseases.

“As the money is invested into chronic or long-COVID symptoms, we’ll have a better understanding of some illnesses that have plagued people for a long period of time,” he said, adding that the health-care sector as a whole needs to be prepared for a potential increase in comorbidities.

“I’m not trying to sound the alarm and I’m not saying it’s definitely coming, but this is a signal that has to be monitored.” 

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