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Tens of thousands experiencing 'long COVID-19' symptoms in Ontario, science group says

The post COVID-19 condition, also known as “Long COVID”, is a term that encompasses numerous potential sequelae of infection with SARS-CoV-2 that may vary across factors such as the severity of illness, vaccination status, and the intensity of care required. Mufid Majnun

TORONTO – Tens of thousands of people in Ontario are experiencing post-COVID-19 symptoms, a science advisory group said Tuesday, calling for more research on the condition and its potential burden on the healthcare system.

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, which provides guidance to the province on the pandemic, said the symptoms of so-called long COVID can last from weeks to months after contracting the virus.

“The literature on the post-COVID-19 condition is still largely in a formative phase and more controlled studies are needed,” the group said in a science brief.

“Long COVID” is characterized as the persistence of COVID-19 signs and symptoms that continue to develop and can include both ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 syndrome.

A conservative estimate suggests between 57,000 and 78,000 Ontarians had or are currently experiencing long COVID symptoms, the brief said.

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The most common of more than 200 different symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, general pain or discomfort, anxiety and depression.

The group said individuals experiencing such symptoms have difficulty performing daily activities and require increased healthcare resources.

“The post-COVID-19 condition has substantial potential harms for patients, caregivers, health systems and society,” the brief stated.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that approximately one in four individuals who were infected with COVID-19 experience symptoms of long COVID for at least one month. Meanwhile, one in 10 people experience symptoms that last beyond 12 weeks.

The Ontario science advisory group said more research is needed on risk factors for long COVID. Vaccination reduces the chance of developing the post-COVID-19 condition, the group said.

As of September 3, 2021, there have been more than 567,000 cases of COVID-19 infection in Ontario.

To date, nearly 84.5 per cent of Ontarians over the age of 12 have one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 78.2 per cent have two doses.

There is limited Canadian data on healthcare use patterns for patients with long COVID, including emergency department visits and hospital admissions, the science group said. A pan-Canadian study is currently being done to examine these patterns for long COVID-19 patients.

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