This is a summary, written by members of the CITF Secretariat, of:

Carazo S, Skowronski DM, Talbot D, Falcone EL, Laliberté D, Denis G, Deshaies P, Hegg-Deloye S, De Serres G. Physical, psychological and cognitive profile of post-COVID condition in healthcare workers, Quebec, Canada. medRxiv. 2022 Jan 1. Doi: 10.1101/2022.03.08.22272057.

O’Brien KK, Brown DA, Bergin C, Erlandson KM, Vera JH, Avery L, Carusone SC, Cheung AM, Goulding S, Harding R, McCorkell L. Long COVID and episodic disability: advancing the conceptualisation, measurement and knowledge of episodic disability among people living with Long COVID–protocol for a mixed-methods study. BMJ Open. 2022 Mar 1. Doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2022-060826.

The results and/or conclusions contained in the research do not necessarily reflect the views of all CITF members.

Long COVID, also known as post-COVID condition, is defined by a wide range of physical and mental health problems that linger for about 4-to-12 weeks after a SARS-CoV-2 infection, and occasionally, longer. It can be triggered regardless of the severity of infection. Common symptoms include cognitive dysfunction (for instance, ‘brain fog’), joint and muscular pain, loss of taste or smell, fatigue, among others. While long COVID has been recognized as a disability by health entities worldwide, its prevalence, risk factors, and duration are still not well-understood.

Nearly half of infected healthcare workers in Quebec afflicted by chronic symptoms

With the sheer number of healthcare workers infected during the pandemic, long COVID will undoubtedly have devastating impacts on occupational health and healthcare delivery in the long-term. To better grasp the pervasiveness of long COVID among healthcare workers in Quebec, CITF-affiliated experts Dr. Gaston Des Serres of the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, Dr. Danuta Skowronski from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, and Dr. Emilia Falcone from the Institut de recherche Clinique de Montréal, along with their colleagues, surveyed up to 6,061 healthcare workers with a previous infection and 4,390 without. Of the infected healthcare workers, 118 (2%) were hospitalized for their infection whereas the other 5,943 (98%) were not.

Their findings, released in pre-print, therefore not yet peer reviewed, show that nearly half (46%) of infected healthcare workers had symptoms persisting at four weeks, and for 40%, at 12 weeks, after infection. Among those hospitalized for COVID-19, three-quarters (76%) experienced lingering symptoms at four weeks and 68% at 12-weeks post-infection. One third of non-hospitalized healthcare workers with long COVID described long lasting cognitive impairment, which was independently associated with psychological distress and severe fatigue.

Individuals with long COVID were also found to require, on average, twice the amount of sick leave compared to infected individuals who did not go on to have long COVID. 73% of individuals with long COVID did not feel fully recovered when eventually returning to work. With highly transmissible variants driving up case counts, the authors stress that it is important to recognize the toll long COVID will have on professional disability and healthcare systems in the long term.

Other key findings:

  • Nearly all (96%) healthcare workers who experienced long COVID were unvaccinated at the time of infection (study period: November 2020 to May 2021).
  • The most frequent symptoms lasting four weeks or more were (in non-hospitalized vs. hospitalized cases): fatigue (30% vs 64%), loss of smell or taste (20% vs 17%), shortness of breath (20% vs 56%), cognitive dysfunction (15% vs 33%), headache (13% vs 23%), joint and muscular pain (10% vs 22%).
  • The overall prevalence of these symptoms gradually decreased over time, but the prevalence of symptoms rated as ‘severe’ continued unabated.
  • The risk of long COVID was higher among hospitalized patients (vs. non-hospitalized), individuals over the age of 40, and females.
  • Interestingly, among specific healthcare occupations (e.g., nurse, doctor), there did not appear to be one at higher risk of long COVID than the other.

Long COVID projects underway in Canada

The CITF has invested in five different projects focused on increasing knowledge about long COVID. This includes a study tracking the prevalence of long COVID in children (lead PI: Dr. Stephen Freedman). It also includes a new pan-Canadian study led by Statistics Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the CITF that aims to better understand the prevalence of COVID-19-related chronic symptoms and conditions among Canadians.

Further to this, CITF expert and researcher, Dr. Angela Cheung from the University of Toronto, is among a group of researchers leading a study that will aim to capture disability experiences of adults living with long COVID in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Read that the detailed study protocol here.

Explore our overview on post-COVID condition here.