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Up to 10 per cent of Quebec health-care workers affected with long COVID

First responders transport a resident from a long term care facility Friday, November 20, 2020 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz First responders transport a resident from a long term care facility Friday, November 20, 2020 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Between six and 10 per cent of health-care workers in Quebec have suffered from long COVID since the start of the pandemic, preliminary data released on Thursday revealed at the first Canadian Symposium on long COVID, in Montreal.

A third of them have experienced symptoms deemed "severe," and more than half of them have been experiencing symptoms for more than a year.

"Overall, post-COVID syndrome has a significant effect on health and the ability to work, and there is a large unmet demand for rehabilitation services," said the study's author, Dr. Sara Carazo, who is an epidemiologist at the Quebec Institute of Public Health (INSPQ).

There are some 400,000 health-care workers in Quebec. Around 23,500 of them completed an online survey between May and July 2023, and around 4,000 others were contacted by telephone during the same period. One thousand participants responded both online and by telephone.

Three-quarters of the survey participants revealed that they had experienced one or more episodes of COVID-19 since the start of the health crisis. Ten per cent reported symptoms that had lasted more than 12 weeks and were still present.

More than half of the health-care workers affected by long COVID had been experiencing symptoms for more than a year at the time of the survey, and 19 per cent of them for more than two years. A third of the workers were living with severe symptoms, and 14 per cent had to cope with three or more severe symptoms.

The researchers found an association between the severity of symptoms experienced during the acute phase of the infection and the severity of symptoms of long COVID.

Fatigue, shortness of breath, concentration problems, memory loss and confusion (or mental fog) were the symptoms most often mentioned, which is consistent with the findings of many other surveys conducted on the long form of COVID.

Seventy-one per cent of health-care workers affected by long-form COVID said that their state of health now interferes with their ability to work, and 16 per cent said that they are now often unable to work.

A fifth said they had missed at least four weeks of work in the past year, twice as many as among workers without long COVID. A similar proportion consider themselves to have a "poor or very poor" ability to perform the physical or intellectual demands of their job.

The majority of cases of long COVID in health-care workers were detected in employees who had been infected with the virus since the emergence of the Omicron variant, who had been vaccinated, and whose state of health had not required hospitalisation.

A little more than half of the health workers with long COVID have been looking for health-care link with their disease. A third of them have requested services to improve their memory and concentration, but only two per cent of those have been able to have access to services.

A fifth of these workers requested rehabilitation and psychological support services, but their requests were granted in only six and 12 per cent of cases, respectively.

"The rest of the requests were not satisfied," said Carazo.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Sept. 21, 2023. Top Stories

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