Over a year ago, Lisa Tarco contracted COVID-19 and ended up in the hospital for about a month.
The 64-year-old still lives with the lasting effects of the virus every day.
“It’s really a struggle,” said Tarco, who found herself among the tens of thousands of Canadians living with a post-COVID condition, also known as long-term COVID.
Now, a team of researchers at the University of Manitoba is trying to better understand how COVID is affecting Manitobans, and health care providers are working here to help people with symptoms.
The World Health Organization says these symptoms can include fatigue and problems with breathing, memory and concentration.
Tarko had to use oxygen nutrition before COVID-19 due to symptoms of severe asthma and COPD or COPD. I also used a walker, but only when I went out.
Now, she needs a walker even inside her house. She lives with chronic headaches, fatigue, and brain fog.
“I’m not really quick at making decisions anymore,” Tarco said. “My thought process is very slow now…it’s from the coronavirus, and I’m tired all the time. I’m tired all the time.”
Manitoba does not track long-running COVID cases
A recent report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said one in five COVID-19 survivors aged 18 to 64, and one in four aged 65 and over, had at least one accident that could be attributed to his infection.
In Manitoba, a joint health spokesperson said the county isn’t tracking how many people have had COVID for long — but that’s what researchers are now trying to learn.
Dr. Alan Katz, a family physician and health services researcher at the Manitoba Center for Health Policy, is part of a team that is using data from Manitoba health records to see if those with a positive PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test for COVID-19 have gone to seek care for symptoms. Which could be related to the prolonged COVID.
“We’ve really worked to understand the available data and to make sure we’re doing it right,” Katz said. “We don’t want to overestimate or underestimate that because it has a huge impact on both patients…and healthcare providers.”
The team is also launching a survey in the coming weeks to collect data from people who test positive for a rapid antigen test, since the province limited access to Manitoba’s most sensitive PCR test at the time infection from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus began. in height.
“We can combine the two types of information and determine if there is a difference with respect to Omicron or before Omicron.”
Katz expects to be able to start sharing research results in the fall.
Planning required for long-term response to COVID-19
He said there has been a focus during the pandemic on the availability of hospital beds and the demands on emergency rooms, which are important considerations.
But it’s important to realize that people who have been with COVID for a long time will also need care, and not enough efforts are being made to prepare for that, he said.
“There are all kinds of factors that are important to understand so that we can plan and help … provide care for those people who are likely to have already developed these somewhat serious symptoms.”
Currently, patients with prolonged COVID cases or post-COVID-19 cases are usually managed by a primary care provider who can refer them to specialists when appropriate, according to Shared Health.
At Misericordia Health Center in Winnipeg, patients with long-term COVID are treated through Pulmonary Rehabilitation and Easy Street, a rehabilitation program focused on developing independent living skills after life-affecting accidents such as a brain injury or stroke.
“Many of our clients come to us because they have had to stop work, have had to stop going to school, and their parenting duties are affected,” said Esther Hawn, an Easy Street occupational therapist.
She helps patients develop tools and strategies to help them get back to normal, or adjust to a new normal.
She said she works with patients with severe fatigue and “brain fog” or cognitive impairment after COVID. At any given time, about 50 percent of the caseload it has now are people who have had COVID for a long time.
“The system is working hard to keep up with the demands but the demand, I think, has exceeded anyone’s expectations. So more support for long-term COVID rehabilitation would be great.”
Hawn would like to see more understanding about how long Covid is affecting people, and he hopes that people with symptoms will reach out for care.
Respiratory therapist Laura Zelser, who works across the room at the MHC for the Lung Rehabilitation Program, also agrees. She estimates that post-COVID patients now make up 15 to 20 percent of this program’s clients.
“I think the most important thing is getting the word out, that there are programs out there,” Zelser said. “Lots of people are referred later after diagnosis…the sooner we try treatment, the better.”
Tarco hopes that research will provide more answers about how to treat COVID for the long haul.
She underwent a pulmonary rehabilitation program at Misericordia Health Center and is still doing the exercises she learned. She said she has seen some improvement.
“I work on it all the time.”