Is Long COVID a myth or a reality?

We’ve all heard of Long COVID and probably know someone who has been afflicted by persistent COVID-19 symptoms for an extended period and, as sufferers will tell you, there are more questions than answers.

By Chris Buchanan

Stuart Hollingdrake went to work as normal on 29 June 2022. As a studio manager for the radio and television services at the BBC in London he is unable to perform duties remotely, he needs to be in the building. 29 June 2022 was five months, almost to the day, he first tested positive for COVID-19. Five months, almost to the day, since he had entered Broadcasting House to perform his last shift in January 2022, before the debilitating effects of Long COVID kept him indoors at home and too weak to go outside.

When he first tested positive on 27 January 2022, symptoms were flu-like and he went through the formal procedure of quarantine at home. COVID-19 symptoms persisted with severe headaches and body aches although he never experienced a high temperature or breathing problems.

After testing positive for two weeks running, he was prescribed antibiotics for his chest when the breathing problems started, stretching four weeks into his COVID experience and his oxygen levels pushing him perilously close to hospital admission. A month went by, his chest cleared and the first negative test came back – he was finally free of COVID-19, or, as he relates in the video below, so he thought…………

Dr Rubeshan Perumal, Pulmonologist and Senior Scientist at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), says the symptoms associated with Long COVID are vast and that the medical fraternity is in the very early stages of understanding why certain symptoms persist in some patients and not in others.

Apart from the symptoms described by Hollingdrake, additional effects have been severe anxiety, brain-fog and debilitating fatigue. Dr Perumal says comorbidities in patients may exacerbate some symptoms and may be the cause of them showing in only a percentage of patients.

Dr Perumal takes us through the Long COVID diagnostic process below……

Hollingdrake’s employer, the BBC, has been very understanding of his condition, allowing him time to recuperate and paying him in full while he battled Long COVID. They put him in touch with an Occupational Therapist and developed a return-to-work plan, starting with a half-shift, two days a week.

Some Long COVID sufferers have not been so lucky and have had to turn to their disability insurance to provide financial relief. Three of South Africa’s largest medical insurers, Sanlam, Discovery and Liberty all said they don’t have specific benefits for Long COVID but consider each case on its merit and, as with any claim, need a full diagnostic report from a medical practitioner.

My own medical aid scheme, an affiliate of Medscheme, said the same and that payment for treatment would depend on a medical practitioner’s report under the ICD-10 code for COVID-!9 with a post COVID UO9 code. It’s noteworthy that the WHO’s code definition of UO9 is a post-COVID condition, Long COVID as a specific term is not mentioned.

Hollingdrake is back at work and still suffers from bouts of fatigue and anxiety, but he says it’s early days at just three weeks and he’s “getting better each step of the journey”.

But questions remain and Long COVID stays associated with a huge range of diverse symptoms which, it seems, is where treatment regimes are focussed as we discover more about the broader syndrome.

Read more on the WHO definition of Long COVID here.



Related Posts