(CTN News) – Long-term COVID patients from across Canada are fighting for words, breath, and answers after some specialised clinics closed down.
A Statistics Canada poll released this month found that around 2.1 million persons in Canada, or 7% of the adult population, had long-term COVID symptoms. Common symptoms include persistent fatigue, difficulty concentrating, shortness of breath, and worsened symptoms after exercise.
The survey defined long COVID as symptoms three months or more after a confirmed or suspected infection with the COVID-19 virus that could not be explained by anything else.
For one Toronto resident, the long-term consequences of Covid make it impossible for him to leave his residence without an oxygen tank.
“Sometimes I’ll stand up too fast and it is like ageing 50 years in the span of a few weeks,” Marcel, a 33-year-old man, said. CBC News is not using his surname because he is concerned that the stigma associated with the illness will harm his employment.
Marcel’s prolonged COVID symptoms began more than two years ago. He claims to have been told that the lowest 20% of both lungs are filled with scar tissue.
He hoped to start treatment for his symptoms at a COVID-specific clinic in Toronto. On November 1, he was added to a six-month waitlist for the clinic at West Park Healthcare Centre.
However, he received a letter from West Park on December 8 stating that the long-running COVID clinic was ended. Instead, the letter pointed him to remote hospitals or World Health Organization-hosted websites.
He’s still looking for doctors or programmes to assist him recuperate and learn more about how the condition affects him.
West Park did not respond to CBC News’ calls for comment.
CBC News heard from people across the country who were diagnosed with extended COVID and felt their symptoms weren’t completely treated or they didn’t receive the necessary help to heal.
According to a Statistics Canada survey, almost 40% of long-term COVID sufferers who sought health care for their symptoms reported difficulty accessing it.
According to Kieran Quinn, a clinician scientist at Sinai Health and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, there is room for improvement in assisting patients.
He believes that current diagnostics cannot explain the long-term symptoms of COVID, which may contribute to the underrecognition of those suffering from the disease.
According to briefing documents obtained by the Canadian Press through a Freedom of Information request in May, the Ontario Health Ministry received $2.3 million from the government in 2021-22 to pay expenses for extended COVID clinics at eight hospitals. According to the records, there have been no funding promises for 2022-23.
The Ontario Health Ministry did not respond to CBC News’ questions for an update. Instead, an email reaffirmed its vaccination, diagnostic, and treatment efforts.
Other provinces have different techniques. Quebec has around 30 long COVID clinics providing specialised care, with more still in the planning stages.
In March 2023, British Columbia’s five physical COVID clinics will close. It currently provides a virtual version from a team of nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, social workers, and physicians.
According to Dr. Adeera Levin, executive director of B.C.’s post-COVID interdisciplinary clinical care network, self-management methods and strategies are most effective for those living with lengthy COVID.
“In-person care does not offer a significant benefit or improve long-term outcomes relative to the services offered virtually that are based on the same principles.”
The University Health Network’s COVID clinic in Toronto offers support for patients struggling with endurance, balance, thinking abilities, speech, and swallowing.
The clinic’s website states that an interdisciplinary team conducts initial virtual examinations before offering virtual visits with in-person or phone follow-up sessions as needed.
The network’s clinic exclusively treats its own patients due to resource limits, as stated on their website, so Marcel could not be referred there.
A new study published in Science found that individuals with long-term COVID had alterations in blood proteins associated with persistent inflammation. The accompanying comments suggests a potential clinical test.
Specifically, the study found an increase in proteins associated with immune cells called neutrophils, which rise during infection.
According to Immunologist Manali Mukherjee, an assistant professor at McMaster University, the recent study has limitations. It only included 48 patients with severe symptoms who were admitted to the hospital or ICU, which may not be representative of all COVID cases.
Despite this, she believes the study has substantial implications and that the findings are consistent with ongoing research in her lab and others.
“When neutrophils increase during infection, they go through these certain pathways that can be a double-edged sword,” Mukherjee said in a statement. The immune system “can just go rogue.” That’s what the study says.”
When this happens, patients can develop autoimmune illnesses, in which their own antibodies begin to fight them, she explained.
Mukherjee herself had a lengthy COVID for 18 months but has recovered.
Despite disappointments, Marcel has made progress in his recovery and remains hopeful for further improvement.
“I like to think that eventually, I will regain some semblance of a normal life,” he was quoted as saying. “My doctor thinks in the fullness of time, I will recover.”