‘I can’t get enough air in’: Thousands of Manitobans living with long-term effects of old COVID-19 infections

WINNIPEG — As the number of new COVID-19 cases slows, thousands of Manitobans are still living with the long-term effects of an old infection.

One woman with Long COVID tells CTV News a more coordinated response is needed to help people with lingering symptoms get care.

Katie Kitchen said she was the most COVID-cautious person in her family. Despite that, in December 2020, she tested positive.

“After I tested positive I thought, ‘OK, I’m sick. I got COVID, I’ll be sick for two weeks and we’ll get on with the show,'” she said.

“I was super sick for weeks and now it’s been eight months.”

Kitchen said she is still living with several serious long-term symptoms – the most concerning one is chest pain.

“It often feels like my windpipe is very restricted and it feels as if you were trying to drink a Dairy Queen blizzard from a soda straw and it’s just I can’t get enough air in,” she said.

The 33-year-old, who had no pre-existing conditions, now lives with post-acute COVID syndrome or Long COVID for short.

A Shared Health spokesperson tells CTV News in Manitoba, as of July 13 there had been 12,490 cases where people still had persistent symptoms of COVID-19 four weeks post-infection, that accounts for 21.9 per cent of all cases in the province.

The spokesperson also added that Long COVID is usually defined as having symptoms persisting 12 weeks after initial infection.

Kitchen suspects since the virus is so new, and Long COVID is even newer, there’s likely more Long COVID cases left uncounted.

“Because that number reflects people who had a confirmed positive test for COVID which I did, but other people may have got COVID before testing was a thing and continue to have symptoms,” she said.

With the help of a pulmonary physiotherapist, Kitchen is retraining her body to breathe, but she said finding treatment has been an added headache.

Kitchen is an occupational therapist herself, and said she had to advocate for herself

She would like to see a centralized system in Manitoba to get Long COVID patients support without the extra stress.

“There’s just a total lack of coordination within the system in terms of how people who have Long COVID navigate it,” she said.

Physicians are also very concerned about Long COVID.

“Physicians would like to see clear guidance about identifying Long COVID in their patients, treatment options, and where they can refer patients if needed for further diagnosis or treatment,” reads a statement from Doctors Manitoba.

The Shared Health spokesperson told CTV News, “The vast array of potential symptoms associated with Long COVID favours having access to a wide variety of specialists by referral rather than a single geographic clinic.”

The statement went onto say:

With lung-related illness, we can confirm the following:

  • The Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program (https://wrha.mb.ca/rehabilitation/pulmonary-rehabilitation-program) has received 101 referrals to date for post-COVID patients since December 2020, representing about 30 per cent of overall referrals.
  • Rehabilitation interventions include breathing retraining, techniques to manage breathlessness, vestibular therapy, pacing and heart rate monitoring, education on energy conservation and symptom-guided strength and conditioning exercises where appropriate.
  • Respirologists in the community are also seeing an unknown number of post-COVID patients with ongoing pulmonary symptoms.

In the Winnipeg region, geriatric day hospitals are providing multidisciplinary assessment and rehabilitation for older adults. These sites are also accepting referrals for individuals over the age of 60 who are experiencing physical limitations from Long COVID where the symptoms are non-respiratory or there are needs that extend beyond the Pulmonary Rehabilitation program. 

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