Long COVID still threatens Quebecers who contract the virus, warn experts, already overwhelmed by the number of patients to be treated and who fear that other cases will be added this fall.
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“I think we are still going to have new cases of long COVID, because the virus is still there. And the risk is not zero,” breathes Dr. Emilia Liana Falcone, director of the Post-COVID-19 research clinic at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM).
The latter is one of the hundred or so Canadian scientists who gathered in Montreal this week to take part in the country’s first symposium on long COVID.
Still unknown and unexplained, long COVID affects approximately 10 to 20% of people infected with the COVID-19 virus. It is marked by various symptoms that persist more than three months after infection, such as severe fatigue, shortness of breath, memory lapses or various pains.
Even if vaccination has reduced the risks of long-term after-effects, experts continue to see patients. And after more than three years, the symptoms do not fade, they reported.
Moreover, the waiting lists are long, argued microbiologist-infectious disease specialist Alain Piché, who heads the specialized clinic for post-COVID-19 conditions at the Sherbrooke University Hospital Center (CHUS).
With just him and one nurse, they care for more than 400 patients, and their waiting list contains that many. He fills out 15 to 20 disability forms a week, work he never had to do before as an infectious disease specialist.
“We continue to go from wave to wave, it does not disappear,” adds Alberta cardiologist Gavin Oudit.
Even if Quebecers say they are tired of hearing about COVID-19, the subject remains essential, argues Carole Jabet, scientific director of the Fonds de recherche du Québec-Santé (FRQS).
Carole Jabet, scientific director of the Quebec Research Funds
Quebec Research Fund – Isabelle Hamel Blouin
« It’s going to have to be quick,” she says of research into long COVID, because people are suffering and the impacts on society are numerous. Up to 15% of them say they are unable to return to work, for example.
What if it all stems from the gut?
People with long COVID have a more permeable intestine, causing leakage of microscopic microbial particles that can disrupt various organs.
The Dre Emilia Liana Falcone from the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM) is studying the role of the intestine in long COVID, knowing that this organ has a link with the brain, lungs and the immune system.
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The microbiota of patients, with neurological damage such as fatigue or mental fog, can cause these same symptoms when transferred to mice, which previously had virgin intestinal flora, underlined the Dre Falcone.
She is now trying to find out if the inflammation of the intestine caused by the virus persists or if a reservoir of the disease is found there, for example.
Taurine as a remedy?
Cardiologist and professor at the University of Alberta Dr Gavin Oudit hopes taurine could be an easily accessible and inexpensive cure for long COVID.
Dr. Gavin Oudit, at the country’s first symposium on long COVID
Quebec Research Fund – Isabelle Hamel Blouin
Taurine is an amino acid found in the human body. And his early research indicates acute COVID-19 patients had low levels of taurine in their blood and those who were better kept their levels high.
But be careful, the Dr Oudit emphasizes that he has yet to demonstrate a cause and effect of taurine against COVID-19. He hopes to launch into clinical trials soon.
“It’s very exciting, but we still have to prove it,” tempers the researcher.
1 in 10 healthcare workers
Up to one in 10 healthcare workers could be affected by long COVID, according to the first results of a large epidemiological survey by the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ).
“Most healthcare workers living with long COVID syndrome have been infected since the arrival of Omicron,” said Dr.re Sara Carazo.
With just over 23,000 respondents within the health network, preliminary results from the INSPQ show that approximately 10 to 6% of workers were still experiencing symptoms more than three months after an infection.
And a third report that they are severe.
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