A leading Australian epidemiologist has warned that allowing cases numbers to rise in Australia ignores the ‘elephant in the room’ – Long Covid.
Professor Adrian Esterman, Chair of Biostatistics and Epidemiology from the University of South Australia, said allowing Covid cases to rise in Australia by winding back pubic health measures ignored the possibility many people will experience long Covid symptoms for years to come.
‘[Long Covid] is invisible. It’s the elephant in the room, simply invisible to everybody including politicians,’ Professor Esterman told Daily Mail Australia.
Long Covid is defined by the World Health Organisation as experiencing persistent health problems three months from the onset of Covid-19 which last for at least another two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
Health care workers collect information from members of the public as they queue in their cars for a COVID-19 PCR test at a drive-through clinic. A large study found that as many as 30 per cent of people who contract the virus may suffer ‘long’ Covid a number of months after they recover from the initial infection.
‘[Long Covid] is invisible. It’s the elephant in the room, simply invisible to everybody including politicians,’ Professor Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist from the University of South Australia told Daily Mail Australia
‘Symptoms may be new onset following initial recovery from an acute Covid-19 episode or persist from the initial illness,’ WHO said.
Professor Esterman said: ‘It turns out the virus impacts on just about every organ of the body.’
He says typical signs of Long Covid include extreme tiredness like chronic fatigue syndrome, feeling unwell, headaches, brain fog, loss of memory, insomnia, nerve pain, dizziness, heart problems, anxiety and depression.
‘Estimates range from 10 percent of all people infected getting Long Covid, up to 90 per cent, with one large study in The Lancet finding 30 per cent… 30 per cent is probably a reasonable estimate.
‘That would have been mainly the Delta variant.’
Professor Esterman said the willingness of politicians to roll back public health measures and allow case numbers to rise because hospitalisations appeared lower with Omicron ignored the Long Covid problem.
‘I’m sorry, but it does matter if cases go up because there will be a reasonable proportion of those cases ending up with long term health problems,’ he told the ABC.
Most studies have dealt with the long-term effects of earlier Covid variants such as Delta and it’s not yet known whether Omicron will produce similar after-effects
Some typical signs of long Covid include extreme tiredness like chronic fatigue syndrome, feeling unwell, headaches, brain fog, loss of memory, insomnia, nerve pain, dizziness, heart problems, anxiety and depression
Notably, at least one large study found that Long Covid was possible no matter whether the initial infection was severe or not.
‘Other studies show the more severe your initial infection, the more likely you are to get Long Covid, so the evidence is mixed,’ Professor Esterman said.
Professor Esterman said it is too early to know whether Omicron will also result in Long Covid symptoms.
‘We have no idea whether we will still see these numbers for Omicron but until we know better there is no reason to think why we won’t,’ he said.
‘It could be much milder in terms of Long Covid but we have no idea as yet.
‘We do know that for many viral infections, they result in post-viral problems, usually chronic fatigue syndrome, so it’s not unexpected.’
The respected epidemiologist said a number of grants for Australian studies into Long Covid were about to be announced by the Medical Research Future Fund.
‘These will follow up just about anyone who’s had Covid to see whether they experienced Long Covid.
‘Unfortunately these are two-to-three-year studies so we won’t see results immediately.
‘But we are seeing the effects of Long Covid sooner than what we thought… we’re going to start seeing it now, basically.’