Long Covid poses a real threat that must be taken seriously – Scotsman comment

While Scotland is rightly moving towards the re-opening of society and the economy, it is a mistake to believe the Covid crisis has entirely passed.

Health workers in Poland are developing physical rehabilitation programmes to help long Covid patients, with virtual reality games used to test their reaction skills (Picture: Bartosz Siedlik/AFP via Getty Images)
Health workers in Poland are developing physical rehabilitation programmes to help long Covid patients, with virtual reality games used to test their reaction skills (Picture: Bartosz Siedlik/AFP via Getty Images)

One particular reason to remain cautious is the risk of long Covid, a debilitating condition whose symptoms include extreme tiredness, insomnia, problems with memory and concentration known as “brain fog”, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, depression and anxiety, according to the NHS website.

Describing long Covid as a “worry”, Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said recently that cases are likely to increase significantly as the lockdown restrictions are eased “particularly in the younger ages where the vaccination rates are currently much lower”.

A scientific paper published in the journal Nature Medicine last month described the extent of these problems in a group of more than 300 Covid patients in Norway.

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It found that after six months, 61 per cent had persistent symptoms, with 13 per cent suffering from impaired concentration and 11 per cent experiencing memory problems.

“Our findings that young, home-isolated adults with mild Covid-19 are at risk of long-lasting dyspnea [breathlessness] and cognitive symptoms highlight the importance of infection control measures, such as vaccination,” the researchers wrote.

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Understandably and correctly, much of the public’s focus has been on the deadly form of the disease, with long Covid seen by many as an unfortunate but relatively minor problem.

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However, that perception is hopefully now starting to change, as it must.

It has been estimated that more than 81,000 people in Scotland are living with some kind of long Covid. Amy Small, a GP who has the disease, has said its impact can be “devastating” and urged the Scottish government to do more to ensure the NHS is able to provide the best care for patients.

But this may not simply be a serious health problem. If tens of thousands of people are so tired that they are struggling to work, or unable to do so at all, then the risk to the economy as a whole is clear. If that number is about to grow, then so will our problems.

According to the latest update on Friday, there were six newly reported deaths of people who had tested positive for Covid and 39 people in intensive care in Scotland.

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These figures provide testimony of the effectiveness of vaccination – more than 3.9 million people have now had their first dose, with 2.8 million having had both doses – against the deadly form of the disease.

It is not yet clear exactly how effective vaccination is against long Covid, but it will hopefully have at least some impact on the severity or spread of the virus’s more insidious side.

Assuming this is the case, it should add an even greater sense of urgency to Scotland’s vaccination programme – if that is possible – and also increase the motivation of the general public to get the jab. It would also add considerable weight to the arguments of those in favour of vaccinating children.

While we are through the worst of this crisis, it seems this terrible disease will continue to plague us for some time yet.

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