Can’t shake the symptoms of Omicron? You are not alone | News

Lanrick Bennett Jr. was halfway through when he realized something was wrong.

The 46-year-old had recently recovered from COVID and thought he was ready to get back on two wheels, collecting food near Little Italy to deliver to vulnerable people as part of a voluntary organization called Bike Brigade.

Now he was “huffing and huffing” and had to stop at his nearby office to rest.

“I could feel the tightness in my chest, and I was like, this is not good,” recalls Bennett, who easily ran 50-kilometer marathons.

He is quick to point out that he is much better off than people dealing with long and severe COVID. That’s a pretty big difference from his baseline, though, as a healthy year-round cyclist still managing fatigue and persistent breathing issues when exercising, three months into his infection. around Valentine’s Day. It’s a kind of limbo of persistent symptoms that he’s not the only one to face.

More Canadians than ever before have now had COVID, and while most recover quickly (especially if vaccinated), an unknown number are struggling with lingering issues, from shortness of breath to brain fog.

Some are debilitated, while others, like Bennett, are functioning but wondering when, if at all, they will feel back to normal. There are many unknowns when it comes to the long COVID after Omicron and the BA.2 subvariant, but some doctors are saying, anecdotally, that they are now seeing more people affected than in previous waves.

Dr Alexis Gordon, head of general internal medicine, Scarborough Health Network, who has worked with a long-running COVID ward assessing patients there since 2021, said more have come to them in recent months.

“Up to January of this year there was a trickle of referrals with a few a week, and from January to March I think we had 65 referrals. That far exceeds our ability to meet the need to be totally honest,” she said.

Part of that is due to greater community awareness of the program, “but there are definitely a lot more long COVID cases as well,” she said. With so many infections in the community, the denominator has “really exploded”.

All of this has put more pressure on the health care system. “You’re left between trying to prioritize the next wave of hospitalized patients and reopening, but not leaving behind patients with significant debilitating symptoms and trying to provide them with the best possible care with incomplete information,” he said. she declared.

It is difficult to determine how many are affected, especially since most people in the last two COVID waves have not been eligible for PCR tests. The Ontario Science Table has estimated that between 57,000 and 78,000 Ontarians have had or are currently experiencing what they call a post-COVID-19 condition. The September 2021 pre-Omicron brief added that vaccination is “likely protective” against it.

In addition to finding that 50% of people with COVID may experience persistent symptoms, a recent report from Public Health Ontario reviewing the available research found that some of the most common include fatigue, shortness of breath, and impaired cognitive and memory.

It also found that the most common risk factors were more severe COVID and being female, and concluded that caring for these patients would likely strain health and social systems, involving increased emergency department visits, outpatient care, hospital stays and rehabilitation needs.

Dr. Kashif Pirzada, an emergency physician in Toronto, said he saw more people with persistent symptoms after Omicron — most commonly difficulty breathing and a cough, but also cognitive problems — than in other waves.

Often their family doctor has already tried everything. “I’ve had patients walk away in tears when told there’s not much we can do for you,” he said.

He and his colleagues run tests and send them to a pulmonologist, neurologist, or cardiologist, depending on their specific issues, but wait times can be long and there’s no guarantee they’ll get answers.

“I think the huge burden that these long COVID patients are going to place on health services will increase wait times for everyone,” he added.

In British Columbia, Dr. Jane McKay, medical lead for that province’s post-COVID-19 interdisciplinary clinical care network, said she’s actually seen fewer people coming to their five clinics recently. Their “volume of referrals has gone down considerably” and there is no longer anyone on the waiting list.

That could be because symptoms aren’t as severe with Omicron, or because family physicians are becoming more comfortable guiding their patients through this process, McKay said.

Research is still evolving on the impact of vaccination on this condition, as well as Omicron and BA.2, and it’s too early to draw concrete conclusions, she said. But one thing that seems clear, across studies, is that most people seem to get better after a year.

“Some will linger, but I think the message I give to any patient I see is a message of hope – yes, it’s hard, but it’s getting better.”

Unfortunately, there is still no magic formula “that will make a difference” for all symptoms, McKay said, which is very frustrating for patients. But there are treatments for individual conditions, such as migraines.

Katie O’Byrne has been suffering from long COVID symptoms including heart palpitations, low energy and shortness of breath which she describes as “traveling the world in a mud”, since catching the disease in January 2021.

When the 38-year-old registered nurse from northern Alberta was re-infected in mid-March this year, with what she assumed was Omicron, she feared it would set her back. But this time, she was eligible for Paxlovid, a new antiviral drug to reduce the risk of ending up in hospital.

She was surprised when her long COVID symptoms cleared up and she saw an ‘incredible change’ in her energy levels.

O’Byrne knows his experience is entirely anecdotal and Paxlovid is not long COVID approved. Although there have been a few similar anecdotal reports in the United States, there is no data on this potential use. But she hopes it can be studied more systematically to potentially help other sufferers “because managing the symptoms, when there’s no end in sight to your disease, is really difficult”.

Bennett is very grateful to have been vaccinated three times and his initial illness was not as bad as it could have been. Numerous studies have shown that vaccination reduces the risk of ending up in hospital or dying.

But so far he hasn’t bounced back easily.

He now carries an inhaler with him when he rides his bike to stimulate his breathing.

“It’s going to be a slow rebuild,” he said.

“I’m not moving that.”

May Warren is a Toronto-based breaking news reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

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