Long Covid: Sufferers still battling fatigue and breathing problems two years after getting Covid-19

A leading health expert who set up Yorkshire’s first Long Covid clinic said some of his patients are still suffering with the condition, almost two years after they caught the virus, but he remains optimistic that new research could lead to more effective treatment.

Dr Paul Whitaker has treated hundreds of patients since he launched the clinic at St Luke’s Hospital in Bradford in May 2020 - six months before the NHS set up another 40 centres across the country.

The respiratory consultant said around two thirds of them have made significant progress and returned to work, but he still sees around 30 patients at his clinic who have “virtually made no recovery at all”.

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People are diagnosed with Long Covid when they endure symptoms, such as fatigue, problems with concentration and shortness of breath, for 12 weeks. It is still not clear what causes these issues to persist.

Long Covid sufferers are still battling symptoms two years on

An estimated 1.3m people in the UK are living with Long Covid and some say their symptoms are relatively mild while others claim the condition has destroyed their quality of life.

“The vast majority of patients we had right at the beginning, in early 2020, have made a recovery in the sense that they are now able to go back to work and function at a level which is compatible with an almost normal life,” said Dr Whitaker.

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“However, a lot of them, even though they're at that level and are pretty grateful to be at that level, are still not physically back to where they were before.

“I saw a young man in clinic yesterday morning who developed quite severe Long Covid in 2020. Although he's back at work full time and he's able to go for walks around the park with his children, he is still unable to run or walk quickly up a hill.

“He’s almost accepted that he's not going to, at least in the short term, get that extra 10 or 20 per cent back that he’s lost.”

Claire Strachan, a 49-year-old marketing consultant who lives in Yorkshire, has endured Long Covid for 18 months. She still suffers with breathing difficulties and a persistent cough, and has been forced to reduce her hours at work.

After 12 months of treatment, doctors believe she may have suffered nerve damage and referred her to specialists at St Bartholomew's Hospital.

“It’s tough, but I try to focus on my kids - getting them through it - and making the most of each day,” she said.

Long Covid patients in Bradford no longer have to travel to hospital, as they can now be referred to a community-based service and receive support from occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists.

Dr Whitaker has welcomed the move and said it is now much easier for patients to access treatment, but more research is needed to help clinicians improve their understanding of the condition.

“The one thing which is still poorly understood is the actual mechanisms of how Long Covid develops,” he said.

“But there's a lot of evidence now that there is ongoing inflammation, especially vascular inflammation, and it’s possible that a lot of patients might be getting this ongoing inflammation and micro bloodclots.

“When people are getting breathlessness it might be because of inflammation and micro bloodclots in the periphery of the lung or when they're getting the brain fog and they can't focus, it might be because they have the same process of inflammation and micro bloodclots in the brain.”

He cited a study published earlier this month by researchers at Stellenbosch University which found 25 Long Covid patients saw “a significant reduction” in their symptoms when they were treated for micro bloodclots.

They found these clots were persistently forming in the blood and causing inflammation, but they were not being broken down effectively by the body naturally, through a process known as fibrinolysis.

Dr Whitaker said: “Already in Bradford, we're exploring how we might be able to physically assess some of these patients to look for this inflammation or look for these micro blood clots.

"A lot of the tests which are used in research centres, across Europe, South Africa and in America, are not tests which are routinely available in the NHS.”

He also said that all of the unvaccinated are encouraged to accept the jab, although some patients with Long Covid feel it caused their symptoms to flare up the majority did not notice any significant difference or even had some slight benefit.

A Yorkshire woman who has endured Long Covid for 18 months remains hopeful that she will find an effective form of treatment.

Claire Strachan, a 49-year-old marketing consultant who lives in Wetherby, still has breathing difficulties and a persistent cough, and has been forced to reduce her hours at work.

After 12 months of treatment, doctors believe she may have suffered nerve damage and referred her to specialists at St Bartholomew's Hospital.

“It’s tough, but I try to focus on my kids - getting them through it - and making the most of each day,” she said.