We’re still learning about the long-term effects of COVID-19, but we know that many people are experiencing ongoing mental and/or physical ill health related to the disease.
Some people who have had the disease are experiencing ongoing symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, headaches, pain, seizures, and loss of taste and smell.
Ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 is defined as ongoing signs and symptoms of COVID-19 extending from 4 to 12 weeks since initial symptom onset.
Post-COVID-19 syndrome is defined as symptoms extending beyond 12 weeks from initial symptom onset.
The term ‘long COVID’ usually refers to both stages, but there are currently no agreed diagnostic criteria. Early research in Australia estimates that 20 per cent of people with COVID-19 still experience symptoms after one month, and 5 per cent after three months. Researchers are still working to understand how many people might develop long COVID in Australia, and whether different COVID variants affect the risk of developing it.
There is emerging evidence to show that vaccinated people who have breakthrough infection may also be susceptible to developing long COVID-19. Children may also be susceptible; however, recent studies indicate that they recover more quickly than older patients.
The North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network region has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic in Australia. This means thousands of people may require treatment for long COVID. We are encouraging people who have had COVID-19 to stay in touch with their GP.
Managing long COVID in general practice
General practice is well placed to manage patients with long COVID. GPs are encouraged to keep in touch with their patients who they know had the disease. Management may involve coordination of care with a multidisciplinary team of allied health and/or specialist services to address different symptoms.
The Long COVID Management and Referral pathways on HealthPathways Melbourne are being regularly updated. They offer localised clinical guidance and referral options for managing patients experiencing issues with their physical and mental health that may result from COVID-19.
Quality improvement activity for general practice
We encourage practices to use our long COVID quality improvement activity template. It is easy to follow and will step you through the process for identifying and managing these patients in your practice.