The report says long COVID could hit economy and be a “mass disability event” in Canada
A report released Thursday by Canada’s chief science adviser says she views COVID-19 as the “head” of the pandemic but long views COVID as its “tail” as the disease causes significant damage to individuals, their families and potentially the country’s economy .
dr Mona Nemer said about 10 to 20 percent of people with COVID-19 develop COVID long after recovering from an infection and struggling with a variety of symptoms ranging from high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat to medically undefined symptoms such as chronic fatigue, brain fog, muscle pain and blurred vision.
“Some patients have not recovered two to three years after initial infection, and it is uncertain if some will ever fully recover,” Nemer said of the condition, for which there is no consensus on a clear definition and diagnostic criteria. affecting welfare and disability entitlements Support and insurance for those who are no longer able to work.
“Future socio-economic impacts on Canada may be far-reaching and require planning and monitoring,” she said of the broader implications of Long COVID, also known as the Post-COVID-19 state or PCC.
“Analysis of the socio-economic impact of PCC from other countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, shows significant impacts on the labor market and gross domestic product (GDP) in addition to healthcare costs and requirements.”
Canada could face a “mass disability event” as it becomes increasingly clear that COVID-19 increases the risk of several chronic diseases, including diabetes and high blood pressure, Nemer said, adding that the number of people affected by long-term COVID are possibly greater than expected due to the lack of established diagnostic criteria.
Statistics Canada said late last year that about 15 percent of adults in the country reported some long-lasting COVID symptoms at least three months after a positive COVID-19 test, equivalent to 1.4 million people.
Nemer made 18 recommendations, including establishing a Canada-wide research and clinical care network, along with standardized assessments and clinical guidelines.
“At the clinical level, an important question will be whether PCC/Long-COVID is a single disease or a constellation of conditions that require different treatment and follow-up,” the report states.
In response, the federal government on Thursday announced $29 million in funding to develop clinical guidelines and create an online network where researchers and clinicians can share information about long-COVID with each other and with the public.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said $20 million will go towards the Long COVID Web research network led by Dr. Angela Cheung, a senior physician at the Toronto University Health Network.
Funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research will allow Cheung to work with about 300 researchers, clinicians and people living with long-term COVID to develop diagnoses, treatments and rehabilitation.
Cheung said researchers across the country now have an opportunity to share resources and learn from each other.
“We will be conducting webinars to share our findings and engaging with provincial and professional bodies such as the Ontario College of Family Physicians,” Cheung said, adding that the public will have access to the network.
PHAC said the remaining $9 million will go to McMaster University to develop clinical practice guidelines for those who have recovered from COVID-19 infection but continue to struggle with symptoms.
Specialized long COVID clinics and rehabilitation services are available in some provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
However, their exact numbers and locations are not readily available, and patients have to endure long waits for any services they can access, Nemer’s report said.
British Columbia has four clinics after one closed and merged with another last September, a Health Department spokesman said in an emailed reply.
However, all clinics will close on April 1 and move to a virtual clinic, the ministry said, citing a declining number of referrals.
It said there were 755 referrals to the clinics in May 2021, but that number dropped to 80 each in October, November and December 2022.
The move to a single virtual clinic from one location each in Vancouver, Surrey, Abbotsford and Victoria will provide “provincial access to care,” the ministry said.
“Currently, more than 1,500 patients across the province are accessing these services and they will continue to receive the care they need.”
Susie Goulding, who started an online support group for “long-distance drivers,” said a shortage of GPs for referrals could be partly responsible for why people might not attend some clinics.
“It just wasn’t easy to get access to these clinics,” said Goulding, of Cambridge, Ontario, adding that some people had become bedridden and needed priority care.
“There’s a lot of anxiety because of that and because you haven’t checked in with your doctor properly and you’re like, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ There is a lot of emotional pressure and strain when you lose your job and lose your wages. How are you going to fund yourself in this economy?”
As part of the complex and mysterious spectrum of symptoms, Goulding said some people believe they smell dirty diapers, cigarette smoke and rotting garbage when those smells don’t exist, sometimes leading to further stigma from healthcare providers and even their own families.
“It’s the public message that’s missing. There’s a complete disconnect from doctors who don’t know, three years later, doctors still don’t even believe COVID has been around for long. There is a problem and the problem needs to be addressed,” she said.
Goulding contracted COVID-19 in March 2020. A year later, as her list of symptoms grew longer, she sought help at a brain injury clinic in Burlington, Ontario, where she spent three months seeing a physical, occupational and speech therapist. She also received acupuncture and counseling.
“I think I have the best chance of recovering,” said Goulding, who said she is getting some relief from dizziness, vision problems, a sore ear and brain fog. But other issues like swollen vocal cords, an inability to remember simple words, and gastrointestinal issues come and go.
In her report, Nemer also noted that there are very few studies on the “important area of research” involving children with long COVID.
Pam Milos of Regina said her 11-year-old son Ian Milos was infected with COVID-19 in March 2021 along with her and five other family members.
Her son was initially the least ill of them all, but then developed inexplicable symptoms, including muscle aches, chronic fatigue and extreme sensitivity to noise, leaving the family “walking on eggshells,” she said.
Just last November, a pediatrician diagnosed him with long-term COVID, she said, adding that health workers at an emergency room suggested he fake his symptoms to attract attention.
Milos said her son went from being an active kid riding bikes and scooters and playing basketball to missing a lot of school. When he comes, he sometimes comes home and falls asleep at 4 p.m. from extreme tiredness.
He now sees an occupational therapist and counselor, but her extended services have long expired, so she pays about $400 a month, said Milos, a teacher who was forced to take a second job as a tutor.
“It’s also taking a toll on me mentally because I haven’t been able to help him for 18 months,” she said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like, ‘Will he ever be a normal kid again?’ ”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 9, 2023.
Canadian Press health reporting is supported by a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. CP is solely responsible for this content.
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