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LONG COVID: WHAT IT IS AND HOW TO MANAGE IT 

Your Health / Conditions / COVID-19 / Long COVID: What it is and how to manage it

Published on Jun 24, 2022
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Authored by Dr Cassy Richmond


It seems as though this pandemic situation has gone on… and on… and on, don’t you think? If you have been washing your hands regularly, physical distancing and wearing a mask when others are gathered around, that’s great! If you are fully vaccinated and boostered (if eligible), then you are doing really well. Nonetheless, the virus that causes COVID-19 is highly contagious and can cause serious illness for some people. It is therefore really important that you know what to do if you develop COVID-19 symptoms, or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive.

COVID-19 symptoms – what are they?

According to the World Health Organisation, COVID-19 can affect people in different ways. Many people will develop mild to moderate symptoms. These include:1

  • ​​​​​​​Fever
  • ​​​​​​​Cough​​
  • ​​​​​​​Tiredness
  • ​​​​​​​Loss of taste or smell
  • ​​​​​​​Sore throat, headache
  • ​​​​​​​Muscle aches and pains
  • ​​​​​​​Diarrhoea
  • ​​​​​​​Irritated eyes

  • Some people may develop more serious symptoms and become very unwell, including:1

  • ​​​​​​​Breathlessness
  • Chest pain
  • ​​​​​​​Loss of speech or mobility, or confusion

    ​​​​​​​If you are unwell with serious symptoms, or are concerned at any time, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
    ​​​​​​​
  • How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

    If you have developed COVID-19 symptoms, or you have come into close contact with someone who is positive, it is important to get yourself tested. By identifying if you are positive for COVID-19, you can reduce your risk of passing the virus on to others. We all have an important role to play in minimising the transmission of the virus – and in protecting the community!

    There are two types of tests that are available.2 These are:

  • Polymerase chain reaction test (PCR); and
  • Rapid antigen test (RAT) 
    ​​​​​​​
  • What is Long COVID?

    Most people who get COVID-19 will recover within a week or so after infection.3 However, a proportion of people will continue to experience COVID-like symptoms for many weeks to months.4 If there is no medical explanation for COVID-like symptoms persisting for 4 weeks or more after contracting the virus, then a diagnosis of post-COVID-19 syndrome (or ‘long COVID’) may be made.3

    What are the symptoms of Long COVID?

    Long COVID is more common in people who experience a severe COVID-19 illness – but it can also occur in someone who has mild (or even no) symptoms as well.3 Symptoms of long COVID include:3,5

    • ​​​​​​​Fatigue
    • Fever, cough
    • Headache, dizziness
    • ​​​​​​​Changes to taste or smell
    • ​​​​​​​Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Chest tightness/pain
    • Fast beating heart (heart palpitations)
    • Joint pain or muscle aches
    • ​​​​​​​Rash
    • Memory or concentration problems (often referred to as “foggy brain”)
    • Sleep problems
    • Anxiety or low mood

    How is Long COVID diagnosed?

    Although the risk for developing long COVID is still being investigated, research suggests that older age, being female, being unvaccinated, and having underlying medical conditions (such as respiratory disease or diabetes) are potential factors that could contribute to the development of this condition.5

    Although there is no actual test to diagnose long COVID, if you have had COVID-19 and are experiencing ongoing symptoms, it is important to speak to your healthcare provider so that you can be properly assessed.Your doctor should be able to develop an individualised management plan to help improve your symptoms.

    Management of COVID-19

    If you test positive to COVID-19 via RAT, you must let the authorities know. Please follow your local health advice to register a positive COVID-19 test.2,7 If you test positive on PCR, you will be notified by your local health department. Anyone with COVID-19 must isolate (this period of time may vary, depending on where you are located – so please ensure you follow the recommendations of your local health department).7,8

    If you have a sore throat, runny nose or cough after the period of isolation, you should stay at home and isolate for 24 hours after these symptoms settle. Ensure you follow the advice of your local health department regarding whether household contacts should isolate as well. Depending on where you are located, some local health departments require you to complete online questions to determine whether you are at risk of developing severe disease. You may also be asked to provide the details of your GP so that they can be notified as well. It is really important that you do this as soon as possible so that you can be optimally cared for. You should also contact your local doctor yourself to let them know that you have tested positive. If you are pregnant, it is important to notify both your GP and antenatal healthcare provider.7

    How to manage Long COVID

    Many people with mild symptoms are able to be treated at home. If you have mild symptoms, rest up and take paracetamol (as per the packaging) to manage the fevers. Lozenges may help if you have a sore throat. Make sure you drink water regularly to avoid becoming dehydrated.Your doctor may have further advice for you, depending on your specific medical history. If you are identified as someone who is at high risk of progression to serious illness, there may be additional treatment options available to you. For some people, oral antiviral therapy may be prescribed. Oral antiviral therapy enables high risk people who are not requiring hospitalisation for COVID-19 to be treated at home. It is important to start prescribed treatment as soon as possible after a positive diagnosis, to achieve the best outcome. People at risk may include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (particularly if there is an underlying medical condition), people who are immunocompromised, older patients, and people living in residential aged care or disability care facilities.9 Please note that pregnant women are not able to use oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19. However, other treatment options may be available for some pregnant women.10

    What else should I do?

    Things can change at any time. Make sure you monitor your symptoms and seek medical attention if you develop severe symptoms, or are concerned at any time. It’s important to let all recent social contacts know so they can get tested as well. Notify your workplace if you were onsite at a time that you may have been infectious.
    ​​​​​​​
    Being diagnosed with COVID-19 may be particularly stressful for you. Look after yourself! Your doctor is an important first port of call if you have any concerns. If you feel it would be helpful, consider calling a Helpline, such as Lifeline Australia (13 11 14).

    References

    1. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1. Accessed 30 May 2022.
    2. Testing for COVID-19. Australian Government. https://www.health.gov.au/health-alerts/covid-19/testing. Accessed 30 May 2022.
    3. Long COVID or Post-COVID Conditions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects/index.html. Accessed 30 May 2022.
    4. COVID-19 (coronavirus): Long-term effects. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-long-term-effects/art-20490351. Accessed 30 May 2022.
    5. Long COVID: Risk factors and how to mitigate them. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/long-covid-risk-factors-and-how-to-mitigate-them. Accessed 30 May 2022.
    6. WHO officially recognises long COVID. Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/who-officially-recognises-long-covid. Accessed 30 May 2022.
    7. Testing positive to COVID-19 and managing COVID-19 safely at home. NSW Government. https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/management/advice-for-confirmed. Accessed 30 May 2022.
    8. If you have COVID-19 or are a close contact. Australian Government. https://www.health.gov.au/health-alerts/covid-19/testing-positive?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3-y9kN-G-AIVijMqCh085g2OEAAYASAAEgIHW_D_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds. Accessed 30 May 2022.  
    9. Oral treatments for COVID-19. Australian Government. https://www.health.gov.au/health-alerts/covid-19/treatments/oral#about-oral-treatment-for-covid19. Accessed 30 May 2022.
    10. Medicine management for pregnant patients with COVID-19 - guidance for NSW Health clinicians. NSW Health. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/covid-19/communities-of-practice/Pages/medicine-mgnt-pregnant-patients-covid19.aspx#antiviral. Accessed 30 May 2022.

    ​​​​​​​External Resources

    -Healthdirect: COVID-19
    -Australian Government Department of Health: COVID-19 disease, symptoms and variants

    PP-PAX-AUS-0166 06/22

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