An infectious disease expert has called for an educational campaign for doctors, employers and businesses to support people with long Covid, after some patients were accused of exaggerating their illness.
Infectious disease consultant at the Mater Hospital, Professor Jack Lambert, said there is a belief among the public and the medical community that long Covid patients are making up their illness.
Prof Lambert said that brain scans of people with long Covid show they have brain inflammation among other symptoms.
The disease expert has also called on the Government to provide more resources and treatment for people suffering from the illness and the variety of symptoms.
Prof Lambert told the Oireachtas health committee that some patients have chronic fatigue syndrome as part of their long Covid.
“So many patients have been told there’s nothing wrong with them and just to exercise more,” he added.
“I think that in some communities, both in the general public and in the medical community, there’s the belief that these patients are making up their illness, if they just try harder and be mindful they’ll get better.
“But the reality is most of the patients I took care of are health care workers who never missed a day of work in their life.
“They never missed a day at work in the ICU.
“They worked long shifts and here they are coming down with Covid from an infection they caught in the hospital.
“Two years later they’ve done everything they possibly can, including private care to get help and they’re basically told there’s nothing wrong with you, just exercise more, be mindful, and that doesn’t work for this condition.
“PET scans, brain scans of long Covid patients from research studies have shown there’s brain inflammation there, patients are not making this up.
“It’s real. It’s all in their head, there’s damage to the brain, and that’s really what the focus should be on.
“There should be an educational campaign for employers, occupational health doctors, businesses, to support these patients because they are not making up the problem.”
Prof Lambert also called on the Government to change its long Covid plan, saying the current one is letting patients down.
“We have known this for 18 months based on accumulated scientific damage that brain damage is the issue with long Covid,” he added.
“We need a new plan and new resources and staffing to support these patients to recover and return to being contributing members of society.”
A study carried out by Prof Lambert on patients with long Covid found they had brain fog, cognitive issues, exhaustion, sleeplessness and psychological issues that they did not have before.
“They also had blood pressure, pulse thermoregulation problems, a kind of dysautonomia, which is abnormal signalling of the vagus nerve.
“You recall the patients with Covid get damage to the nerve one and two, which is smell and taste.”
He said he had “no idea” of the number of people impacted by long Covid in Ireland.
Prof Lambert also said that the Department of Health should publish the number of people who present with long Covid.
He told the committee that about a third of patients have significant symptoms after one year of recovering from Covid-19.
“About 1 to 5 per cent of people are still disabled with long Covid after one year, to the point that they’re not able to function as they were prior to them contracting the infection a year before,” he added.
“I also mentioned that probably everybody in Ireland has got Covid and some of them got it twice. So there’s probably five million people have got Covid and even if 1 per cent of those are at risk for getting long Covid, that’s a large population of people who are being disabled by this virus.”
He added: “I think we have to move around the resources.
“So my ideal programme would be having a centre that has neuro-rehabilitation specialists and neurologists working in a multidisciplinary clinic with infectious disease doctors, a range of psychologists because that’s been a significant problem, and that’s been under resourced in terms of the current plan.”
He has also called for GPs to be trained on how to look after people with long Covid, saying there is a need for a network of local doctors to look after patients in their own area.