Covid-19 is a new disease so information on it, its features and its course are still emerging. Scientific and clinical evidence is evolving on the long-term effects of COVID-19. An increasing number of reports and studies are now being published on the topic, however, at present there is no agreement on the definition or the terminology.
We do however, know that the clinical course of viral illnesses varies between people, and that the virus that causes Covid-19 can be detected in some people for many weeks. However, this does not mean that people are infectious for a prolonged period of time. People who have had Covid-19 are being followed up by their GP or in hospital settings. People in the community who are concerned about persistent Covid-19 symptoms should contact their GP. Treatment is currently focused on management of specific symptoms.
Fatigue is a common symptom after many viral infections and while most people recover in a short few days or weeks it can be prolonged and more severe for others. The reason for this is unclear. We would usually expect people to make a full recovery over time. Covid-19 is a multisystem infection and may impact people in differing ways.
Specific guidance on the treatment of Long Covid is presently under development both here and internationally.
Longer-term observational studies will be required to understand the health consequences presently being attributed to post Covid-19 infection. There is currently a paucity of published research studies on Long COVID. Estimates of the prevalence of Long COVID vary widely (range 10% to 87.5%). The majority of studies have looked at the prevalence in patients discharged from hospital and the sample sizes in most studies are small.
I can advise the Deputy that the HSE as part of its work on post-Covid, is now looking at how it can model the possible numbers that will be affected, noting that this will take time as more evidence emerges.
There is a lot of uncertainty in the international literature about how many people experience prolonged symptoms so it is extremely difficult to determine the scale as yet in Ireland, however the HSE are monitoring the situation very closely and looking at how we can best estimate the scale, this will take some time and will need continual review.
I understand that the HSE has been in touch with and will be engaging with a group of people who are suffering post-Covid symptoms to inform understanding. Guidance is being developed to align needs with care provision and to develop criteria and strategies for the ongoing evaluation of patients.
The HSE is assessing need and the best way to care for those impacted by Long COVID. The Department of Health will continue to develop an understanding of the implications of Long Covid to inform policy as appropriate.
The Illness Benefit scheme does not fall under the remit of my Department, however information on the scheme and how to apply can be found at https://services.mywelfare.ie/en/topics/health-disability-illness/illness-benefit/