A scientific review of the world’s research into long Covid carried out by a team of leading UK researchers has led them to declare the burden of the post-infection condition “so large as to be unfathomable”.
While the Australian government has allocated $50m for long Covid research, in New Zealand there has been zero investment for bio-medical long Covid research to understand and treat the condition.
Symptoms of long Covid range from the profoundly disabling to ‘merely’ upsetting. Those with long Covid frequently display a core set of symptoms, Altmann says, including breathlessness, fatigue, wheeze, post-exertional malaise and brain fog.
Research has found signs of damage in long Covid patients’ hearts, lungs, brains and nervous systems, and signs of disease in their immune systems.
Links to chronic fatigue considered
Another disease noted for similarities with long Covid is ME/CFS – myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.
“They are terribly similar. And it’s really helpful and illuminating to join up those discussions,” Altmann says.
“Almost every time I go on TV or radio I get a certain amount of comment from people in the ME/CFS community, really quite angry with me, and saying ‘well you’ve jumped on the bandwagon now, but where have you been the last 20 years? Nobody’s heard us, nobody’s listened to us, nobody’s researched on us’.
“My answer is – firstly an apology on the part of the medical community, because yeah, nobody was prepared to fund that research, nobody was that interested, nobody had the wherewithall to look at it with it.
“And, now I think we’re at a kind of Rosetta Stone moment where understanding one can illuminate the other in a bi-directional way, because so many things that were discussed over the years in ME/CFS are almost certainly relevant for long Covid and vice versa.”
The two diseases have many similar physical signs and reported symptoms, including post-exertional malaise (PEM).
“Some of the blood biomarkers that we talk about are the same in both of them, some of the gut microbiome changes that we talk about are the same in both of them, and the symptom list is massively overlapping,” Altmann says.