SFU study highlights need for Long COVID awareness

The study emphasizes the condition’s broad impacts

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A closeup of a person standing outside wearing a blue N-95 mask covering their nose and mouth.
PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By: Yashita Dhillon, News Writer

A report published in April by SFU’s newly-founded Pacific Institute on Pathogens, Pandemics and Society (PIPPS) emphasizes the need for broader awareness and understanding of Long COVID among healthcare professionals and the general public in Canada. 

Long COVID, as defined by the Government of Canada, represents a range of symptoms that can last months after the initial COVID-19 infection. These symptoms can vary widely but commonly include severe fatigue, brain fog, body weakness, persistent cough, and breathlessness. The condition can also impact the cardiovascular and neurological systems, leading to heart palpitations, chest pain, memory loss, and tinnitus

The report underscores the importance of recognizing and addressing persistent health issues following COVID-19, to support affected individuals in managing their symptoms. The report consolidates findings from focus groups that included unpaid caregivers, healthcare providers, and individuals experiencing Long COVID. It highlights the prevailing stigma and disbelief surrounding the condition. Kayli Jamieson, who has had Long COVID symptoms since 2021, co-led the focus groups and shared her experiences with SFU News, noting the societal and medical oversight of the condition. “It’s an invisible and new condition,” she said, adding that “many people don’t believe that Long COVID is real or exists.” 

Long COVID also affects healthy and vaccinated individuals, and the risk of Long COVID rises with each infection. The condition disproportionately affects women, racialized people, people with disabilities, and the 2SLGBTQIAS+ community. Jamieson spoke on the report at a panel host by SFU and said, “I implore you to examine your principles of community care and how this virus disproportoinately impacts those most marginalized. This is a feminist issue, this is a queer issue, this is a race, class, and disability justice issue.”

Statistics Canada reports that over 3.5 million Canadians have experienced Long COVID symptoms, with significant challenges in accessing necessary healthcare. Despite numerous studies, no definitive treatments have been recognized, leaving many to face symptoms without adequate care. The PIPPS report notes “existing symptom management tools for similar chronic illnesses like ME/CFS are under-utilized and could be leveraged for Long COVID care and diagnosis.”

“It’s an invisible condition that many still don’t believe exists, affecting every aspect of our society.” — Kayli Jamieson, study co-leader

It also recommends several actions to improve care and support for those affected by Long COVID. These include enhancing public and professional recognition of the condition as a legitimate health issue and integrating comprehensive care approaches that address both physical and mental health aspects.  

This includes education on Long COVID, health system navigators to aid in acquiring help for COVID and Long COVID symptoms and treatment, and overall recognition of Long COVID. The report also emphasised a prevention-based approach to education, teaching safety and responsibility surrounding COVID-19 and Long COVID. This includes “mask-wearing, regular vaccinations, increasing paid sick days, or improving indoor air ventilation.”

Kaylee Byers, an assistant professor in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences and the principal investigator of the study, emphasized, that the condition challenges our healthcare systems and highlights the need for stronger supports, not just for individuals but for entire communities affected by it. 

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