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What happens after a COVID‑19 infection, and what exactly is “Long COVID”?

Wednesday 20 April 2022 12:05pm

In the past several weeks our University community has endured a surge in cases of the Omicron variant of COVID‑19. Thankfully, many of you have weathered the acute phase of COVID, and are out of isolation. Many will have also noticed they have some symptoms from this COVID infection which aren’t just going away like a cold would.

Much of the angst around persisting symptoms after COVID comes from the misunderstanding that COVID‑19 (and particularly the Omicron variant) is “just a cold”. In fact, experiencing some lingering symptoms after a COVID infection is quite common. Realistically, roughly 1 in 3 people will experience some form of lingering symptom for several weeks, and make a full recovery.

Having symptoms for several weeks after your acute infection does not mean you have “Long COVID”. Long COVID is a formal medical diagnosis established after someone has had debilitating ongoing significant symptoms for at least 8-12 weeks according to the World Health Organisation. The Ministry of Health provides helpful information:

Long COVID – Ministry of Health website

Common lingering symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, cough, difficulties with concentration, memory, and/or brain fog. Some may note worsening mood symptoms.

The best way to avoid post-COVID is to not get COVID in the first place. We all know by now what common sense things we can do – wear a mask, wash your hands, and otherwise look after yourself. We also know that if you are fully vaccinated (with a booster), you are less likely to suffer lingering symptoms if you do catch COVID.

Here are some things to remember if you are experiencing lingering symptoms:

  • Recognise the symptoms you are experiencing are temporary, but real, and you may have to dial back what you do every day. Pace yourself, and give your body a chance to heal
  • Most lingering symptoms don’t require a medical appointment. They will improve over the next few weeks. You should make an appointment if you feel you are getting more unwell, or if your lingering symptoms are making an underlying medical condition (such as asthma or diabetes) worse.
  • You may find you feel unfit, or that the fatigue, cough, or other symptoms intrude on exercise. This is temporary. Best to make a plan for gradual return to your former fitness level, and follow it.
  • Remember the basics – eat well, get enough sleep every night, and ease up on alcohol. Doing these things help you recover.
  • Taking paracetamol or ibuprofen can help with muscle aches
  • Register your positive COVID result on your MyCovid app, as this will be needed in the unusual event that you need medical care or support services if symptoms persist beyond 12 weeks.
  • Seek support if you need it:

References