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COVID-19 long-haulers studied in B.C. to understand lasting effects of virus

Last Updated Sep 11, 2020 at 1:56 pm PST

FILE - Specimens to be tested for COVID-19 are seen at a lab, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, March 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

People who have been infected with COVID-19 are being studied B.C. as doctors try to learn more about the virus

Long-term symptoms include heart issues, blood clots, chunks of hair loss, inflammatory problems, and profound fatigue

It's not clear if the long-term symptoms will get better over months to a year, like other virtual illnesses

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The long-term effects of COVID-19 are being studied by experts in B.C. as doctors work against the clock to try and learn more about the vicious virus.

A number of people, known as long-haulers, contract the virus, beat it, but then their symptoms linger for months after the fact.

RELATED: Why do some people keep testing positive for Covid-19?

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said long-term effects include issues with the heart and blood vessels, as well as profound fatigue and inflammatory conditions, which can make it difficult to breathe.

“We don’t know if this is something that is going to gradually get better over a period of months to a year, which is something we do see with other viral illnesses, or whether this is something that’s going to cause long-term impacts on some people — so that’s the challenge.”

She adds she’s heard from frustrated people who were infected in March and are still dealing with the virus.

“[They] aren’t to get back to their usual activities and the usual things that they do.”

RELATED: Richmond woman among growing number of COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ who never fully recovered

The key, Henry said, is to learn as much about the virus as possible as the public health emergency continues.

“These are things that we’re learning about and every individual situation is the same,” she said. “We know that some of these are associated with COVID. We also know that we had a lot of influenza circulating at the beginning of this pandemic, and influezna also is a disease that can flatten people for quite a long time. So, it’s challenging sometimes to tease apart what people might have ongoing issues with and that’s where the research becomes so important.”

As the research continues, now more than ever, the provincial government is relying heavily on British Columbians to get the flu shot this fall and winter in a bid to help reduce the strain of COVID-19 on our healthcare system.

B.C. has procured an additional 450,000 doses of high-dose flu vaccine, making 2,045,000 doses available.

Last year, the province’s immunization rate was about 75 per cent.

RELATED: B.C. at critical point for bending COVID-19 curve back down: top doctor

While she has said she’s concerned for anyone who has had the virus, as more young people are infected, she stresses they are not invincible and could end up in the hospital dealing with the long-term effects of the coronavirus.

Henry said Thursday British Columbians might have to live with the virus in their communities for months or even years.

Meantime, if you think you have the virus, use this online self-assessment tool, call 811 or call your doctor’s office as soon as possible.

The most common symptoms of the virus include fever, dry cough, and fatigue.

Less common symptoms are aches and pains, sore throat, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste or smell, a rash on the skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes.

There have been some cases where infected people transmitted the virus before feeling sick or showing symptoms, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control.

“However, it is unclear if this contributes to significant spread of the virus in the population.”