Long COVID attracts more media attention in wake of British study

An epidemiologist says it's important to focus attention on this issue because it has significant public-policy implications

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      Last month, I interviewed a Richmond science journalist for an article about the pandemic's impact on mental health.

      Lorraine Graves is one of the "long haulers" who's still showing symptoms of COVID-19 more than a year after being diagnosed. She has been fortunate to have a supportive family and good connections with work colleagues, but it's still been very difficult on her.

      At the time, I asked her why she has been so willing to share her story in the media.

      "There have been so many people over all the years that were willing to be the person—the face of the story," Graves said. 

      She mentioned one woman who talked to her about being infertile because she had a pelvic infection that she ignored.

      Another woman let Graves show cervical warts that were being tested.

      Another young man was willing to be interviewed after losing a testicle to cancer.

      "All those people put themselves out there," Graves said. "I figured I couldn't not [do that]."

      There's a Facebook group with 13,600 members called the COVID Long-Haulers Support Group Canada. On occasion, it will contact Graves to ask if she would speak to the media.

      She told me that there were three groups that are unaware that for some people, symptoms of COVID-19 can persist for months or over a year: the public, people living with "long COVID", and the medical profession.

      Graves uses her Twitter feed to promote greater understanding. It's often reported that 10 percent of people experience long COVID, but she said that in Australia, a study found that it could be as high as 40 percent.

      Fortunately, Graves's breathing has improved.

      "It’s not where it was but it’s better," she said last month. "My oxygen saturation is staying up closer to normal. I’m on lots of meds for it."

      Vancouver Sun reporter Lori Culbert wrote a thorough article on long COVID in April, but for the most part, this topic hasn't generated a great deal of attention in the international media. 

      That concerns Dr. Nisreen Alwan, a University of Southampton epidemiologist, who tweeted this morning about the lack of interest in this topic.

      "When MSM [mainstream media] reach out to me to talk about reactions to variants, vaccines, restrictions etc I sometimes say to them: do you want to talk about #LongCovid?" she revealed. "It's really important and relevant to policy options & all of the above. But they're mostly not interested. Really strange."

      Alwan also tweeted about this topic on Friday (June 4).

      Perhaps she's having an impact. Not only did it prompt me to write about the topic, but articles have also appeared in the last couple of days on the websites of the BBC, CTV News, and the Guardian.

      The U.K.-based Office for National Statistics has reported that about one million people living in private households reported long COVID—i.e. their symptoms persisted for at least four weeks after a suspected infection.

      "Of people with self-reported long COVID, 869,000 first had (or suspected they had) COVID-19 at least 12 weeks previously, and 376,000 first had (or suspected they had) COVID-19 at least one year previously," ONS stated in a news release.

      That's a sharp rise from the 70,000 in March who reported having or suspecting that they had COVID-19 symptoms for at least a year.

      "Fatigue was the most common symptom reported as part of individuals' experience of long COVID (547,000 people), followed by shortness of breath (405,000), muscle ache (313,000), and difficulty concentrating (285,000)," ONS noted.

      Graves cited fatigue, breathing problems, and difficulty concentrating as three of her symptoms of long COVID during her interview with the Straight last month.

      She also mentioned that long COVID is "immune-mediated", which gives her hope.

      "I have a hunch if they can actually do the research and figure out what’s at the root of it, not only will it help the people with long COVID, it will help people with a whole whack of post-viral syndromes and reactive arthritis," Graves said.