Long Covid in Australia

What is Long Covid?

As if suffering from symptomatic Covid-19 wasn’t bad enough, an estimated 10% to 30% of all Covid-19 patients suffer from longer term symptoms, weeks and months after first contracting the virus – a condition known therefore as “Long Covid”.

The fact that the cause of the condition and how to treat it effectively are still clouded in darkness has led to a push by more Long Covid patients and doctors for research into what is causing the symptoms.

Indeed, Australia’s National Institutes of Health earlier this year unveiled a major billion-dollar initiative to study Long Covid.


What are the symptoms of Long Covid?

Long Covid describes symptoms that last longer than four weeks after a Covid-19 diagnosis.

Commonly reported Long Covid symptoms can include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, muscle aches, brain fog, insomnia, possibly joint pain and even a racing heart beat.

According to the British Lung Foundation, Long Covid is characterised by two stages:

  • Ongoing symptomatic Covid-19 whereby symptoms last 4-12 weeks
  • Post Covid-19 syndrome, where symptoms last over 12 weeks and are not known to be caused by another condition

In Australia, the UNSW ADAPT study has been researching the long-term effects of Covid-19 since April 2020. Professor Gail Matthews from the Kirby Institute, one of the lead investigators of the study, says there’s no clear definition for Long Covid yet, and indeed it could even be several different syndromes with different causes.     

The ADAPT researchers have been following patients aged 18-80 diagnosed with Covid-19 at regular intervals over a minimum of one year post-diagnosis, and so far have revealed only 80% of patients reported full recovery at the 8 month mark.

Who is more likely to suffer from Long Covid?  

The ADAPT survey has found that patients who have been critically ill in intensive care on a ventilator for 2-3 weeks are most likely not going to be fully recovered, even at 3 months. It’s important to note that this is not idiosyncratic to Covid-19. A multi-month recovery process can ensue after other infections. 

But the stand-out finding is that 30% of those studied had still not fully recovered at 12 weeks – in other words, a large proportion of people who only suffered mild illness, weren’t hospitalised, didn’t have pneumonia or go to ICU were still not better at 12 weeks after infection.   

Long Covid is also not confined only to the elderly or those with underlying health conditions, with women being twice as affected as men in the study, alongside some fit and young adults.

Theories about the causes of Long Covid 

While further investigation is definitely warranted into the causes of Long Covid, there are some theories including the idea that dormant viruses in our bodies can be reactivated by the Covid-19 coronavirus. These dormant viruses in our body include the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) (that causes glandular fever), the chickenpox virus (that can cause shingles) as well as human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6), which causes herpes simplex viruses, herpes zoster, as well as the common childhood illness sixth disease. These viruses can be harmless and symptomless, kept at bay by a healthy immune system, until reactivated by things such as an infection or stress.  

In June, a study published within MDPI suggested a possible association between EBV reactivations and Long Covid: about 67% out of 30 patients were positive for EBV reactivation, compared with about 10% of the control group, who had contracted Covid-19 but didn’t experience long-term symptoms.

Is there a role for medicinal cannabis in management of Long Covid symptoms as an adjunct therapy?

As Long Covid is still being studied in Australia and around the world, it’s unclear what treatment options are going to be most effective for patients. 

In the meantime, there are several options in the management of symptoms.  

Medicinal cannabis as an alternative therapy has been known to assist in the relief for some patients with chronic pain, insomnia and symptoms associated with mental health deterioration including anxiety and stress, through the cannabinoids’ actions  to help reduce cortisol levels. Given these are symptoms also associated with a Long Covid diagnosis, medicinal cannabis treatment could be explored to potentially minimize the psychological and physical health impacts. 

Medicinal cannabis as an adjunct therapy 

Medical cannabis may be considered as an adjunct treatment to conventional therapies for a number of conditions, or an alternative option where those conventional therapies have failed. Please discuss with your doctor if this may be a suitable pathway for you to explore, based on your condition.

CA Clinics also offers a team of specialists in Oncology, Psychiatry, Palliative Care, Addiction, DVA Health, and Pain and Rehabilitation. We support patients with chronic pain and debilitating conditions, including but not limited to:

Please call us on 1300 991 477 or email [email protected] if you would like to learn more. 

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