New Brunswick will participate in a national roundtable on long COVID-19 in early June, looking at different models of care, says the province's acting deputy chief medical officer of health.
Long COVID is "a topic of great interest" in New Brunswick, said Dr. Yves Léger.
"We know that it is affecting a significant proportion of COVID cases," he said.
How many, and for how long "aren't exactly clear yet."
"We still don't have an official case definition for what is or isn't long COVID," said Léger.
"But we do know that it is, for some individuals, it is quite debilitating. It certainly can affect their quality of life and in some cases even their ability to work."
Early reports from the World Health Organization showed 10 to 20 per cent of people infected with the virus would go on to have symptoms of long COVID. But earlier this month, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said more up-to-date research indicates it could be as many as half.
'Pretending long COVID doesn't exist'
New Brunswick has faced criticism from the public and opposition politicians for being slow to address — or even acknowledge — the issue.
Lisa Cranke, who says she has suffered with long COVID for more than two years, argues the provinces needs to "do better to help long COVID patients."
"In fact, NB is pretending long COVID doesn't exist," she posted on Twitter.
People like her are "suffering and need help and acknowledgement," she wrote.
One day earlier this month, Cranke said she was so fatigued she could barely get out of bed. The next day, her head was pounding and the pressure was so bad, she could barely think.
Just standing makes her heart rate jump to 160 beats per minute, she said, and she shakes and has tremors.
"I know that there is no cure for long COVID yet; however, as a minimum, it should be recognized as a severe illness and disability so that patients can get the help they need when they can no longer work anymore due to symptoms," Cranke wrote.
Doctors also need guidance about how to help patients, she added.
Green Party Leader David Coon has said he has "no confidence … that the government or health [department] are actually paying attention to long COVID.
"And that's going to be brutal for all too many people," he said.
Seeking best way to move forward
But Léger contends "it still is early days."
"We are, you know, committed to looking at that to really try and put in measures that will better care for these individuals going forward," he said.
The national roundtable will review the models that have been used elsewhere and which ones "seem to be promising."
Some provinces, for example, have specialized long COVID clinics with several different disciplines of care-providers involved.
"Whether or not those are the best models to adopt and whether they provide the best level of care is still unclear to me," said Léger.
"So hopefully we'll be able to learn more at this national roundtable to give us more information to consider what is the best way to move forward in New Brunswick."
Last week, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard told reporters work on long COVID is ongoing.
"It's always been on my radar," she said.
A group of Moncton scientists is trying to gather as much information as possible on the symptoms, what patients need to recover and the risk factors.
"It's all still relatively new. So that data is still being collected. And we'll be working with our [regional health authority] partners and those who have a handle on long COVID to see how we need to proceed in the future," Shephard said.
National survey launched
In Nova Scotia, the government created MyCOVIDRecoveryNS.ca in August 2021, a website with the most up-to-date information available about managing or treating the lingering symptoms of COVID-19.
Ontario published a report on a review of its long COVID situation last month.
The Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada have launched a survey to get a broad idea of how common it is for people to feel lingering effects after COVID-19 infection.
"We probably anticipate that the impact of long COVID is going to be quite substantial," Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has said.
The public health agency says there have been reports of more than 100 symptoms associated with the condition.
The most common ones, according to PHAC, are fatigue, memory problems, anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder.