New study reveals Australian Long COVID response lagging

Masked Asian man show wooden sign with wording "Long Covid" in dark room.

A new study from RMIT University and Northern Health has examined Australia’s Long Covid services, guidelines and public health information compared with international standards.

The researchers found Australia lacking in several categories, including early investigation, accessibility and availability of trustworthy public health information, and adequate multidisciplinary Long COVID services to meet demand.

Dean of RMIT’s School of Health and Biomedical Sciences and co-author on the paper, Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos, warned that this problem will only worsen over time.

“Long COVID is here to stay. As COVID-19 cases continue to accumulate, the cases of Long COVID will also increase,” said Itsiopoulos.

“With unclear diagnosis and unknown effective treatment, this new chronic disease will be highly costly to the individual and on public health systems worldwide.”

“While most people recover fully, up to 40% of people experience lingering symptoms. Recent new data show that 14% of Victorians who had COVID-19 suffer from Long-COVID,” said Itsiopoulos.

The research found that Long COVID patients are falling through the cracks and there is undereducation even among health professionals.

“These symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath, persistent cough, joint pain, brain fog, cognitive dysfunction, anxiety, depression, loss of smell or taste and insomnia.

“Our study found that Long COVID patients have fallen through the cracks due to poor diagnosis, complex multiple chronic disease needs and poor access to health care.”

Co-lead author Associate Professor Zhen Zheng highlighted that while early investigation at week four after contracting COVID-19 is recommended by the Australian, UK and US guidelines, this is not consistently implemented in Australia.

“Because there’s so much confusion around the definition of Long COVID and so little that we know about it, even healthcare professionals – including GPs at the frontlines of healthcare – don’t know how to spot the early signs or how best to help people experiencing it,” said Zheng.

The study makes a number of recommendations to improve Australia’s response:

  1. Early detection
  2. Address mental health issues in the acute phase
  3. Investigate symptoms at four to eight weeks
  4. Refer to Long COVID clinics