Norfolk doctor leads call for answers over ‘long Covid’
PUBLISHED: 06:00 30 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:10 30 September 2020
A Norfolk doctor is leading calls for urgent research into so-called long Covid after battling symptoms for more than six months.
Jake Suett, 32, was healthy and had no underlying health conditions before he contracted the coronavirus in March.
Dr Suett, who works in the A&E department at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, still suffers from shortness of breath.
He is one of 39 doctors experiencing persistent symptoms, who are calling for long Covid to be taken more seriously.
“We argue that this means accepting an emerging picture that prolonged symptoms are having a substantial impact on a significant minority of people and acknowledging that death is not the only outcome to measure,” they write in the British Medical Journal. “We argue that further research into chronic Covid-19 symptoms is essential.”
Dr Suett was fit, healthy and went to the gym three or four times a week before he started suffering from a fever, dry cough and shortness of breath in March.
“I had contact with patients at work who had the virus, but I could have caught it in the street,” he said. “I got very ill, by Day 10 I was gasping for breath, I couldn’t finish a sentence.
“It was just pretty awful really. It was about six months before I could confidently walk without getting short of breath.
“The symptoms never go away completely, they seem to come and go in waves.”
Dr Suett is trying to return to work part-time. He said while he can work sitting down at a computer, climbing stairs still leaves him short of breath.
Fellow clinicians who have signed the open letter tell of similar symptoms, along with chronic fatigue. They fear long Covid could be a lasting legacy of the pandemic.
Dr Suett said he and his colleagues wanted to see research into the scale of the condition.
“Until we gather more data we don’t know how many people are affected, what the cause is, how long it lasts,” he said. “We need to put some measures in place to get to grips with this. The first part is the research, it’s counting it, working out what it looks like.”
While there are no official figures, King’s College London estimates there have been more than 60,000 long Covid cases.
An online support group has thousands of members who report symptoms including chest pain and neurological symptoms. Elsewhere, people have suffered strokes, heart problems a urinary infections.
“I’ve met a lot of people affected by it,” said Dr Suett. “I’ve spoken to a lot of doctors affected by it.
“We need to keep an eye on the long term effects, there are a lot of other people saying this who are experts. It’s something that needs to be looked into.”
A recent scientific paper defined long Covid as symptoms lasting for more than three months.
Back in King’s Lynn, Dr Suett wanders how much longer his will persist for, as he returns to work more than six months after he first went down with the virus.
“I can do work sitting down so I can do computer work,” he said. “But if I did a flight of stairs I’d feel quite short of breath at the top and if I went for a jog I’d get chest pains.”
What is long Covid?
One scientific paper defines long Covid as coronavirus-like symptoms which persist for more than three months.
After suffering and recovering from the initial ravages of the infection, a ‘significant minority’ of patients remain unwell.
Problems range from loss of taste and smell, to shortness of breath, chest pains and fatigue.
More serious complications such as heart problems, strokes and urinary infections have also been reported.
While daily figures are reported for the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths across the UK, there are no official statistics regarding long Covid cases.
One college estimates more than 60,000 may have gone on to contract it.
Thirty-nine doctors have signed an open letter to the British Medical Journal calling for urgent research into both the numbers affected and the causes.
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