Long-COVID: what you need to know

Woman sitting down holding her head in pain

There’s no doubt that after nearly three years, we’re all weary of the pandemic. But the fact is that even though we may be done with COVID-19, it’s not done with us.

While restrictions have eased in many places, infections are still happening in waves throughout the year as new, more transmissible variants arise. Vaccines greatly reduce the risk that you will get seriously ill, require hospitalization or die, but we are still able to become infected with COVID even if we have been fully vaccinated and have received booster doses.1 In these cases the infection is usually mild. But unfortunately, a percentage of people who get COVID-19 – even a mild infection – can end up developing something called Long COVID.

What is long COVID?

Long COVID is defined as a wide range of new, returning or ongoing health problems that people continue to experience weeks, months and even years after being infected with COVID-19.

According to the CDC2 people with long COVID commonly report the following symptoms:

  • Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
  • Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort
  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating
  • Headache
  • Sleep problems
  • Dizziness when standing up
  • Pins-and-needles feelings
  • Change in smell or taste
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Rash
  • Changes in menstrual cycles

Depending upon the number and severity of the symptoms, it can be severely debilitating for those who have it – but what percentage of people will end up with long-C0VID after an infection still isn’t entirely clear. Some estimates early on in the pandemic suggested as many as 40% – 60%, but there is evidence to suggest that number may be much lower now – either due to the widespread rollout of vaccines, immunity from prior infections or a change in the virus itself.3 In fact, researchers at University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto who are studying long-COVID believe about 10% of those who are infected with COVID-19 will go on to suffer long-COVID symptoms.4

But regardless of the exact number of those who will be impacted, the fact remains that there is a risk of developing long-COVID after an infection, so continuing to do what you can to avoid being infected by COVID-19 and spreading it to others still makes sense.

Protect yourself and others

We all know how to protect ourselves from COVID-19 by now. It’s just a matter of continuing to stay vigilant and following public health recommendations including these recommended by the CDC5:

  • Stay up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Wear a well-fitting mask in closed, crowded public spaces with poor ventilation, or when you don’t know how the room is ventilated
  • Meet people outside, and if you can’t, open a window to increase the amount of natural ventilation when indoors
  • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with either an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the used tissue immediately in a closed bin and wash your hands.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently, particularly door handles, faucets and phone screens
  • If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately by calling your local health authority and follow their directions

There has been so much misinformation out there about COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. But COVID-19 has killed more than six million people worldwide5 so it’s critical to make sure that you’re getting your information about the virus from reputable sources. In Canada visit the Government of Canada website in the United States visit the CDC, and in the UK visit GOV.UK.

For more information on long-COVID, check out this Behind the Breakthrough podcast from UHN featuring a doctor who is pioneering research on the symptoms and treatment for long-COVID patients.


1 https://wecandothis.hhs.gov/resource/facts-about-covid-19-and-the-vaccines
2  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/long-term-effects/
3 https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/long-covid-estimate-vaccination-omicron-canada-1.6536194
4 https://www.uhn.ca/corporate/News/UHN_Podcasts/Behind_the_Breakthrough

5 https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public

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