The ACT will soon have a rehabilitation centre specifically designed to assist patients suffering from the effects of ‘long COVID’.
The post-COVID – or ‘long COVID’ – care clinic is currently being established at the University of Canberra Hospital and is expected to open early next year.
Canberra Health Services director of allied health Todd Kaye explained the clinic will be open to anyone who is no longer infectious with COVID-19 but still experiencing symptoms.
A multidisciplinary team will be on-site, while a rehab physician will coordinate care.
“The best therapists and professionals will be there to assist people in their recovery from COVID-19,” Mr Kaye explained.
Mr Kaye said that while a lot remains to be learned about the long-term impacts of COVID-19, there is early evidence to show that in some cases, ‘long COVID’ can leave patients with symptoms such as tiredness, difficulty breathing, a persistent cough and joint pain.
Others can be left with not enough energy to exercise, fever, headaches, problems with memory and difficulty thinking clearly (‘brain fog’), as well as depression and anxiety.
“Some people may just require a bit of expertise and assistance to help them get over these symptoms,” he said.
According to Mr Kaye, it’s believed that it’s not only COVID-19 patients who were in the ICU or in hospital who may be affected by long-term issues, but also people who initially suffered a more mild form of the disease and were managed in the community or by their GP.
Until now, people have been able to access ongoing care and rehabilitation support through outpatient services or GPs, and that arrangement will continue until the clinic opens.
“What we’re seeing is people who get quite fatigued or get breathless very easily or who may be having some ongoing respiratory symptoms,” he noted.
“There is also some evidence to suggest psychological impacts from dealing with COVID-19 so we’ve also brought in some psychologists to help with that.”
Mr Kaye said there’s already some evidence from overseas showing up to one-third of all patients are left with ‘long COVID’ for weeks or even months.
“There’s a bit of fledgling research from overseas and other states in Australia, but nothing definitive yet about how long people will need treatment for.”
General assumptions based on how other viruses behave suggest six to 12 weeks, Mr Kaye said, because “that’s how long it takes for the body to recover and build up strength again”.
As of Thursday (9 December), the ACT’s delta outbreak had grown to 2,055 cases. In last year’s alpha outbreak, 124 cases were recorded.
While Mr Kaye wouldn’t put a number on how many Canberrans may need to be treated at the clinic, it is estimated around 800 Canberrans may need long-term care despite being cleared of the initial infection.
“It’s difficult to know how many people will need to access this and also how many will want to engage with this model,” he said.
“We are aware that the issue is out there and we want to be able to connect with people and help them as best we can.”
It’s hoped the ACT’s high-vaccination rates and relatively few COVID-infections will mean a small number of people will have to deal with the impacts of long COVID.
But as a lot is currently unknown, it’s hoped the clinic will help uncover some of those mysteries.