Doctors and other health service providers around New Zealand will be getting more guidance about how to help people suffering from long Covid.
Dr Ian Town, the Ministry of Health's chief science adviser, said more practical advice and guidance about a "rehabilitation framework" was being developed by an expert advisory group.
Town said this guidance would be developed as soon as more research was completed locally and overseas, but didn’t give more details about a timeline.
Long Covid is characterised by a range of symptoms, including low energy, shortness of breath, a lingering cough, brain fog, low mood, joint pain, muscle weakness, a racing pulse, changes to taste and smell, and poor sleep.
"Is not dissimilar, in some respects, to what we might otherwise call chronic fatigue syndrome," Town said.
In the UK, an estimated one in five people who had contracted Covid-19 had some symptoms five weeks after their diagnosis. About one in 10 of those who tested Covid-positive continued to experience symptoms after 12 weeks.
Of 110 patients who were surveyed in the UK after being hospitalised with the virus, about three quarters said they continued to experience symptoms after 12 weeks. Those surveyed most commonly reported being fatigued and being short of breath.
There is currently no specific treatment for long Covid. However, long Covid clinics do operate in the UK, which provides patients with expertise from a team of doctors, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and other specialists.
"While for many people the Omicron variant illness we're experiencing in New Zealand at the moment may be relatively mild, some of these will have ongoing symptoms for some of these people," Town said.
That was why Omicron shouldn't be taken trivially and should still be avoided, he added.
Town said part of the reason for developing advice for health professionals was so that people who had long Covid could be confident that their symptoms were “real”.
"There is no suggestion this [long Covid] is a psychological or malingering event. We want people to feel confident talking to their doctor and perhaps an individualised programme to return to work and get back to normal activities over weeks and sometimes months."
Dr Martin Chadwick, the Ministry of Health's first chief allied health professions officer, chaired the expert advisory group.
Town said the group would also use the research being carried out at Victoria University into long Covid.
The research, funded by the Ministry of health and led by Dr Mona Jeffreys, Dr Marianna Churchward and Dr Lynne Russell, wanted to get a better picture of Covid-19′s short and long-term effects in New Zealand. It also aimed to get more insights into the pandemic experiences of families, Māori, and Pasifika.
About 8000 Kiwis diagnosed with Covid-19 had already been invited to take part in the research.
“This research, when it’s received by the expert advisory group, will be able to help us plan better for future management for those with this condition [long Covid],” Town said.