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What if coronavirus stays with you for life? Jo Platt's fight against a public health timebomb

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The government has now officially recognised the long-term health implications some people can suffer after contracting coronavirus.

Lung inflammation, gastrointestinal disturbance, and fatigue are just some of the listed long-term health effects published by Public Health England.

But it’s no new revelation - as campaigners made up of politicians, expert clinicians and sufferers have fought hard over the past few months to bring what has become known as ‘long covid’ into the public domain.

One of them is Jo Platt, former Labour MP for Leigh, who says the virus hit her ‘like a train’ in the week before lockdown in March - when it wasn’t possible to get a test. She's been left with symptoms months on - although recently tested negative twice for COVID-19.

“It was like a train hitting me, like a switch, I felt so unwell for two days. I had general dizziness, fatigue but nothing you could pinpoint. I didn’t have a cough or a temperature, although I felt hot; had gastric trouble; shortness of breath; then it eased and I was okay and thought ‘thank goodness. It must have just been mild’,” Jo said.

Two days later the symptoms came back, but that spell of illness lasted for two weeks. Jo said she couldn’t get out of bed, suffered intense headaches and a burning sensation in her lungs, was unable to concentrate and couldn’t read.

“I’m not normally an anxious person, but then came anxiety", she said. "I felt a real sense of dread, a heightened pending sense of doom. It continued on and off for months, and particularly worsened at the weekend.

The 48-year-old got in touch with her GP who said anxiety was bringing the symptoms on. It wasn’t until a week later when Jo read an article by Professor Paul Garner, of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who talked about his fight with symptoms, that she realised she wasn't alone.

“Everything he was saying was the same as what I was going through. I cried and cried. It was all validated. Then the journey began of finding other people - which does make it feel better,” said the mum-of-three.

Prof Garner has described coronavirus as a 'very bizarre disease' that left him feeling 'repeatedly battered the first two months' and then experiencing lesser episodes in the subsequent four months with continual fatigue.

“Navigating help is really difficult,” he said in a BMJ webinar.

With the help of Jo's connections in parliament, Prof Garner, and meetings with the shadow cabinet health team, a support group for long covid sufferers has been formed, which has 20,000 members. They’re calling for recognition, which they finally got from the government on 7 September 7, research and rehab.

Matt Hancock said at the Health and Social Care Committee the following day: “The long-term impacts of covid are not very strongly correlated with severity of the initial illness. While we have a significant amount of work going into supporting those who come out of hospital, this is not just about people hospitalised.

“In fact, this is especially relevant for now with the latest rise largely among young people, it doesn't matter how serious your infection was the first time, the impact of long covid can be really debilitating for a long period of time, no matter if your initial illness wasn't all that severe.”

The Health Secretary, when questioned on calls by the Royal College of GPs for covid clinics, said the NHS has set up clinics, but he is ‘concerned’ that not all GPs know how to ensure people know how to get into those services. “That’s something I am sure we can resolve,” he added.

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Source: Manchester Evening News, 13 September 2020

 

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