Long COVID and disability – what you need to know

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While the symptoms of COVID-19 are quite well known three years into the pandemic, there are some different symptoms people who have had the virus can experience after their initial infection.

Key points

  • Some people who catch COVID-19 experience symptoms after they have recovered called Long COVID
  • While Long COVID is not considered a disability in Australia, it can affect people’s lives for some time after they are infected
  • Support for Long COVID in Australia is available through the health system

Also called Long COVID, these symptoms are still being researched and monitored and not much is known about the long term effects they may have.

Some people experience them for several weeks, some for months, and some people need support to manage these symptoms until they make a full recovery.

What is Long COVID

After testing positive to COVID-19 and recovering from the initial sickness, some people have ongoing symptoms.

If those symptoms last for more than four weeks after you first felt sick, this will be referred to as Long COVID and can cause major life impacts.

Long COVID symptoms include:

  • Extreme fatigue or tiredness
  • Problems with memory and concentration – or ‘brain fog’
  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Changes to taste and smell
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Rashes
  • Changes in mood
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Problems with hearing
  • Problems with eyesight

It’s unknown how long the Long COVID symptoms last, although many people have recovered completely over time, and every person with these symptoms seems to be affected differently.

Some of these ongoing symptoms may be caused by other conditions and not COVID-19, so it is important that you check with your doctor whether anything else is causing your symptoms.

However, there are many people with these symptoms for which the only cause is considered to be the virus.

Having these symptoms weeks after you tested positive doesn’t mean you are infectious and it is safe for you to go out and about.

What do we know about Long COVID?

Although there is not much Australian research or information yet available about Long COVID, a survey of around 9,000 people in the United Kingdom who had been infected found that almost 10 percent had one of these symptoms three months after they tested positive.

A recent, smaller, Australian study done in 2022 by researchers at the University of New South Wales focused on whether the COVID-19 vaccine had any benefits for reducing the chance of getting Long COVID. This study found that about 30 percent of the people involved, who were all unvaccinated when they caught the virus, experienced Long COVID.

Much of the research that has been done across the world agrees that you don’t have to have had severe COVID-19 symptoms to then get Long COVID. The condition has also affected people with moderate or mild symptoms.

So far, most people who experience Long COVID do recover completely, but every person is different and takes a different amount of recovery time.

It’s also important to remember that you can catch COVID-19 a second time, so if symptoms return after 12 weeks you should take a test to see whether you are infected a second time, or whether it might be Long COVID instead.

What support is available?

In Australia Long COVID is not considered a permanent disability, so people with the condition can’t access disability supports.

However, support is usually available through the health system and keeping in touch with your GP while you recover from COVID-19 can ensure you are given any medicine or treatment that might help with management.

If the effect of the symptoms on your life can’t be managed by medication or recovery plans your doctor might refer you to a specialist to see if they can help.

There are no evidence-based medical treatments yet being used for Long COVID, although you might benefit from allied health type treatments to manage the effects of the symptoms on your life.

The Australian Capital Territory Government has set up a Long COVID treatment centre that can be attended by anyone over the age of 16 who has Long COVID symptoms more than 12 weeks after their initial infection.

The clinic has physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers and other staff who can help people to manage the effects of the condition across all aspects of their life.

South Australia has a similar clinic that supports people with Long COVID, that GPs and specialists can refer patients to following chest x-rays and blood tests that rule out other conditions that may cause the symptoms.

The Department of Health also has basic online information about Long COVID, but more specific information can be found on State and Territory Government websites:

The New South Wales, Tasmania and Northern Territory Governments do not have any specific advice on Long COVID.

What else do you want to know about COVID-19 related support? Tell us in the comments below.

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