‘I’ve had ongoing symptoms for 6 months’: GPs warned about lingering effects of COVID-19

Doctors treating people with long-term symptoms of COVID-19 will need to closely monitor patients for potential heart or lung disease, according to a new guide for Australian GPs released today.

The guide, released by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), says common long-term symptoms that will require treatment include fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain, as well as rarer, more severe conditions such as heart and lung damage, stroke and neurological decline.

Data suggests up to 80 per cent of people who require hospitalisation with COVID-19 will experience post-COVID-19 symptoms.

The new guide is likely to provide more clarity for patients like Kate*, who is in her 30s and was living in Europe when she contracted COVID-19 in March.

She had all the common symptoms of the disease early on: fever, sore throat, cough, headaches, eye pain and also lost her sense of smell.

A woman in a mask stands on a street corner.
People who suffer long-term symptoms from COVID-19 could benefit from a special Medicare subsidy, according to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.(Supplied: Unsplash)

Kate has since arrived back in Australia and tested positive twice more since her initial diagnosis.

Despite visiting multiple GPs and specialists, she has not recovered.

“Basically, I’ve had ongoing symptoms for the last six months,” she said.

“The headaches, I still get chills, I’ve still got a sore throat and a hoarse voice.

Kate is currently relying on a family member to help care for her, she has begun to use a wheelchair because walking is exhausting and she has been unable to go back to work.

College of GPs calls for Medicare subsidy to help long haul COVID-19 patients

RACGP acting president Ayman Shenouda said some of the persistent symptoms like fatigue and cough could indicate more serious underlying health issues.

“It can be in the lungs, where they have shortness of breath and that could be lung disease,” he said.

While not all patients will have such severe symptoms, the guide suggests GPs should investigate persistent symptoms that could point to things like cardiac complications or pneumonia.

It also urges GPs to consider chest x-ray at 12 weeks for those who have had significant respiratory illness.

Professor Shenouda said the main aim of producing a guide is to ensure that GPs create a plan with patients to manage chronic symptoms.

The RACGP is also urging the Federal Government to assist GPs in providing care for patients experiencing the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Professor Shenouda said patients would benefit from a new Medicare subsidy that would allow those suffering the after-effects of the disease to take part in longer consultations.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Department of Health said the Medicare Benefit Schedule allows for consultations of varying lengths and items to manage chronic and complex conditions.

The Federal Government will also consider any further adjustments to the mix of primary care and related services available to support the long-term management of ongoing COVID-related symptoms and conditions in the Primary Health Care 10-Year Plan, which is part of the 2021-22 Budget.

*Surname not used to protect privacy.