Ten to 30 per cent of COVID-19 patients will experience long COVID based on data from other countries, and a province-wide survey is gathering information on Albertans’ experiences.
Dr. Chester Ho, senior medical director with Alberta Health Services, said there isn’t a clear number on how many Albertans have long COVID. Diagnosis and tracking has a ways to go.
AHS is currently gathering data from Albertans who have had a COVID-19 test since March 2020.
“We started doing a province-wide survey that is actually quite detailed. Hopefully, by early next year we’ll have some good, concrete data from Alberta,” said Ho, of the Neurosciences, Rehabilitation & Vision Strategic Clinical Network.
Most people who have tested positive for COVID-19 fully recover. But some are left with long COVID and suffer lingering physical, psychological, social and cognitive effects that can include chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, brain fog, anxiety/depression and shortness of breath.
“AHS is supporting the establishment of some long COVID specialty clinics. One is up and running in Edmonton. It’s not just for people in Edmonton, but also people in surrounding zones. The one in Calgary will be up and running soon.”
He said patients require a referral from a family doctor to visit the clinics which are designed to assist patients across the province. Many Albertans have already been referred to the Edmonton clinic. There is no plan for a Red Deer clinic at this point.
AHS says the majority of people can manage their own symptoms with the appropriate resources and supports.
“A lot of people need self-management techniques and also support and resources they can access at home so we have created a lot of those resources. We also have some virtual support programs,” Ho said.
Online resources and supports are available at ahs.ca/healthyaftercovid.
Recently family members spoke to AHS about the impact of long COVID on their 81-year-old grandfather.
Gordon Gross, of Red Deer, was struck by COVID early in the pandemic before he qualified to receive a vaccine along with other members of vulnerable populations 75 or older.
While Gross’ health is improving, he is now dealing with long COVID. His lungs are permanently damaged, and like others who suffer for weeks or months, he experiences weakness and fatigue, brain fog, trouble with memory, difficulty swallowing and loss of smell.
“I think people kind of forget that, along with people dying, there are other ways people are suffering when it comes to quality of life,” said his granddaughter Kaylin Berlinguette.
His granddaughter Amy Berlinguette said her grandpa lost much of his strength in hospital and is only now starting to stand again.
“It’s hard because he likes to be very independent and take care of himself, so it’s hard to see him so reliant on others. And socially, he’s only now regaining motivation to leave his room. Now that he’s in long-term care, he’s met some friends and is participating in activities. It’s nice to see our old grandpa back — his spirit has come back,” said Amy, who is a teacher and received her COVID-19 vaccines as soon as she could.
Despite lingering physical symptoms, their grandfather said he’s grateful to be on the other side of COVID-19.
“If it wasn’t for my family, I wouldn’t have made it. I’m on top of the world and finding my way again. I get to see my family again … and that’s fantastic,” Gross said.