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What is long COVID?

CISSS de la Montérégie-Ouest

What is long COVID?

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 recover within 2 to 4 weeks. However, for some people, COVID-19 can cause symptoms or complications that last or appear beyond this time. This is called long COVID

“10 to 15 % of people will still have symptoms 12 weeks after contracting COVID-19” – according to research data.

Long COVID is a new illness that is not yet well understood, but can be debilitating for some. Various symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive difficulties are associated with long COVID. These symptoms may be different for each person. They can also change from day to day and over time. Symptoms of long COVID can make it difficult for some people to carry out their daily activities, return to school and work, and decrease their overall quality of life.

Through the Projet Co-Vie, the CISSS de la Montérégie-Ouest, in collaboration with health and social services professionals and patient partners, wishes to: 

  • Raise awareness about the existence of long COVID;
  • Equip individuals to better understand and manage long COVID;
  • Participate in research regarding rehabilitation and long COVID;
  • Develop services for users with long COVID. 

Myths and realities

All people who recover from COVID do so within 2 weeks.

FALSE. Many people will have symptoms that continue beyond this period, to varying degrees. The recovery time is different for every person and can range from several weeks to several months.

Long COVID only happens for people who have been hospitalized, who have comorbidities, or who have had severe symptoms of COVID-19.

FALSE. Although these are risk factors for developing long COVID, many people with long COVID had only mild symptoms at first, and some were even asymptomatic. Many young, healthy, fit people have long COVID.

The fatigue associated with long COVID is the same as the fatigue experienced by healthcare professionals during the pandemic.

FALSE. Fatigue is the most common symptom experienced by people with the illness, but it is not usual fatigue that can be recovered with rest and a “good night’s sleep”. Many people with long COVID report debilitating fatigue, disproportionate when compared to their amount of physical exertion, and persists over time. Here are some examples provided by people with the illness, to illustrate the type of fatigue:

“I used to run marathons. Since I had COVID, I have to place chairs in several strategic locations in my apartment to rest and avoid collapsing on the floor when I move around.”

“I took my kids to buy shoes for school and I had to lie down on the floor in the store because I couldn’t stand for even 5 minutes.”

“I sleep for 20 hours out of every 24 hours.”

With positive thinking and pushing their limits, people with long COVID may recover more quickly.

FALSE. On the contrary, overexertion can worsen symptoms and may contribute to their persistence. People with long COVID need support and understanding from those around them, especially since the myth is sometimes believed by long COVID themselves. A compassionate attitude towards oneself and others is needed.

A person with long COVID is contagious and can transmit the virus.

FALSE. Typically, according to public health, a person with COVID-19 can stop isolation and is therefore no longer considered a risk for transmitting COVID if all of the following conditions are met:

  • 10 days have passed since the symptoms started;
  • No fever present for at least 48 hours (without taking fever-reducing medication);
  • Symptoms have improved for at least 24 hours (excluding cough or loss of smell, which may last longer).

General Advice

Believe and do not judge

Most symptoms of long COVID are not visible to the naked eye. Some people with long COVID report difficulty being heard, recognized and served. Although not widely known, it is a very real illness. Empathy and support for people with long COVID is essential.

Raising awareness about the importance of effort management

Resuming activities too quickly or performing activities that are too physically, cognitively, and emotionally demanding can worsen the symptoms of long COVID for some people. Continuing activities as you normally would is not the answer. Rest is important. Respect your limits and adjust activities accordingly.

Recognize individual and diverse needs

People with long COVID have a wide range of symptoms that can vary from person to person. Needs may be medical, rehabilitative, or psychological.

For more information, consult the website of the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS) on long COVID.