Head of Chronic Disease and Injury at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Dr Tamu Davidson, reported that even persons with mild symptoms due to an acute COVID-19 illness can be affected by Long COVID. However, she revealed that recent studies have found that vaccinated persons are less likely to suffer from Long COVID. She was speaking at CARPHA’s recent face to face meeting of the regional Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) about the potential impact of Long COVID on the health status of the Region.
The World Health Organization defines Long COVID as a condition that occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS CoV-2 infection. Symptoms usually occur within three months from the onset of COVID-19, with effects that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis. While patients can have lingering symptoms for months following COVID-19 it is difficult to predict just how long they may last. These symptoms may include fatigue, shortness of breath and cognitive dysfunction (brain fog); and may be of new onset, persist from initial illness or may relapse and recur over time.
Dr. Davidson said, “While anyone could develop this condition, current data, though limited, points to an increased frequency in women, middle aged individuals and in those with more symptoms during the COVID infection”. However, it is noteworthy that the condition is not limited to these groups and that even those with mild COVID-19 symptoms can be affected.
An overview of the potential burden that Long COVID related morbidity can have on the health care system, as well as the implications on the field of public health came in for much discussion at the meeting. The importance of strengthening health systems to support early detection and clinical management of the condition, with a focus on primary health care, was noted. Additionally, the need for surveillance of Long COVID and research to support an understanding of the natural history of the condition within the Caribbean context were highlighted.
CARPHA provided specific management activities that the Region can undertake, such as adhering to public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19, long term follow-up of infected persons, continued vaccination and boosting, as well as continued research to improve knowledge of the condition.
In the discussion that followed, the CMOs shared specific measures that they had employed to manage Long COVID, including the establishment of specialised clinics with multi-disciplinary support to manage cases. CARPHA commended the CMOs on the interventions they had initiated to directly address the issue and encouraged them to continue with heightened surveillance for cases that may yet be undetected.
CARPHA is committed to supporting all Member States in these efforts as the Region continues to manage its transition through this phase of the Pandemic. The two-day meeting, which was held on April 06-07, was supported by the European Union (EU) and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACP).