'This is going to have widespread effects:' More than 57K Ontarians experience a post-COVID-19 condition
TORONTO -- A newly released report by Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table has found that at least 57,000 to 78,000 people in the province had, or are currently experiencing, one of 200 post-COVID-19 conditions following their initial diagnosis.
The 18-page brief finds that while the majority of people with COVID-19 will fully recover, it may take others weeks or even months to return to their pre-illness health level.
“It can affect anybody who is infected,” Fahad Razak, internal medicine physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and a member of the COVID-19 Science advisory table, told CTV News Toronto.
“And unlike the infection itself, where we clearly saw that it was more severe and we were worried most about older individuals or individuals who had a lot of health conditions, the post-COVID condition, or long COVID can affect anybody.”
The science table identified more than 200 different symptoms impacting 10 body organs that can be associated with the post-COVID condition.
A post-COVID-19 condition, or long COVID-19, generally occurs when an individual experiences symptoms or related health conditions that persist beyond the initial infection.
The table says the most prevalent symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, general pain or discomfort, anxiety and depression.
In more serious cases, the report says that individuals may have impaired cognitive and physical functional status, including “limitations in the ability to perform activities of daily living.”
The World Health Organization has reported that about one in four people infected with COVID-19 has experienced a post-COVID-19 condition for at least one month. One in 10 people experience symptoms lasting beyond 12 weeks.
“Patients with the most severe illness during initial infection, and especially those who require intensive care unit (ICU) admission, are expected to have significant long-term health consequences,” the report reads.
The report also cites a systematic review coordinated by the Public Health Agency of Canada, whose initial findings showed that about 83 per cent of patients with a lab-confirmed case of the novel coronavirus experienced one or more post-COVID-19 symptoms within four to 12 weeks, while 56 per cent reported symptoms 12 weeks after diagnosis.
In Ontario alone, the science table says that at least 57,000 to 78,000 people have experienced a post-COVID-19 condition—although they warn those numbers are a “conservative estimate.”
“That number honestly was bigger than I expected and that is the low end,” Razak said. “So to me, that was surprising. That's an incredible number of people just in this province who we’ll have to really think through how to care for in the months to come.”
“I'm very convinced, as are my co-authors, that this is an important entity that is part of the long term, public health and societal picture of what will be the legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The brief also touches on how getting the COVID-19 vaccine reduces the probability of developing a post-COVID-19 condition simply by reducing the chance of becoming infected in the first place. The science table also cites emerging evidence that the vaccine reduces the risk in the event of a breakthrough case.
Razak warns that the long-term consequences of contracting COVID-19 has not been well studied but that it could have a significant impact on health-care systems, as well as the insurance industry, businesses, families, and social supports.
“I think a lot of the attention has focused on the acute infection, people ending up in hospital. The long-term consequences are a lot harder to quantify, and they've been less studied than what happens in those early days of the infection. And so I don't think that there's been enough attention on it,” he said.
“It's really an important area for all of us to focus on, because it's not just about the medical system or medical care anymore, this is going to have widespread effects.”