Long Covid researcher skeptical of study suggesting Omicron causes less disease

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New research from a UK study shows that Omicron may be less likely to cause long Covid than its predecessor, Delta.

Photo: 123RF

But here in New Zealand, researchers and long-time Covid sufferers say that is not the case for Kiwis and they are renewing their pleas for support and warning of the seriousness of the long-term impacts.

Researchers from King’s College London found that the odds of developing long Covid after infection were 20-50% lower during the Omicron wave in the UK compared to Delta.

Dr Claire Steves, who led the study, said there were a few reasons why this might be the case.

“Omicron is less likely to cause severe disease even when you take vaccinations into account, I think Delta could still cause quite severe disease and people had the hallmark lung disease that sent them to the hospital and sometimes to the ‘intensive care unit.’

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Dr. Anna Brooks is leading a crowd-funded study of Covid-19 here. She said the UK study brings no comfort to New Zealand.

Dr Anna Brooks

Dr Anna Brooks
Photo: Supplied/Anna Brooks

“It’s arguable that we’ll have a very small proportion of New Zealanders with long Covid of the original Delta variant, compared to Omicron. Our Omicron cohort is absolutely, phenomenally exploding right now.”

In the UK, 4.5% of people studied during the Omicron peak had long Covid, compared to 10.8% during the Delta wave.

Dr Brooks said the rate of long Covid here with Omicron would more likely be around 10%.

“The official number of infections is something like 1.2 million, you know the modellers will tell us the number will be much higher than that, if we say there have been two million infections and say that 10% get long Covid, that’s you know 200,000 New Zealanders who are going to need healthcare and assistance.”

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Health care and support is what Stacey King stands for.

Her symptoms got so bad after having Covid-19 that she ended up in hospital unable to walk.

“They started doing tests straight away. On the fourth day in the hospital, they diagnosed me with a functional neurological disorder. They said it was because I was stressed and it was just a Complete coincidence that I had Covid-19 at the time.”

She was sent home with painkillers and told she would start bouncing back soon, but that didn’t happen.

Four months later, she is still in the same position and had to pay to see specialists privately.

“The loss of sensation in my legs from knees to feet is amazing. A private neurologist was practicing with a pen, drew blood and I didn’t even feel it. It’s also in my fingers. Actually , a few weekends A few days ago my hand got slammed into the tailgate of a car and I didn’t even realize it. Three fingers were affected and one was fractured.”

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King desperately needs answers and support.

The Ministry of Health said Checkpoint a lengthy Covid advisory group had its first meeting earlier this month, with more planned.

They were monitoring treatments and services, updating evidence and research gaps and funding a study led by the University of Wellington.

But Dr. Brooks was not yet convinced.

“We heard as early as mid-March that there was going to be a long advisory group of Covid experts, you know, many of us, you know, all well connected within the long Covid research arena here in Nova Scotia. Zealand, including with all the patient support groups and to this day no one is quite sure who is part of the ministry’s advisory clinic.”

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