Top Medic Warning: We Must Heed Long-Covid’s Serious Impact on the Brain


Long-Covid patients are being prescribed painkillers, nerve blocks and sleeping pills, while the disease’s impact on the brain isn’t getting the attention it deserves, Prof Jack Lambert, adviser on infectious diseases, warned yesterday.

Rof Lambert, from Dublin’s Mater Hospital, said the experience of patients with long-term Covid illness could be similar to someone who has suffered a closed head injury.

About 1 to 5 percent are still very severely impaired a year later, to the point where they are unable to function, work, or “get out of bed.”

However, the effects on the brain are underestimated and the HSE’s draft treatment plan needs to be updated to reflect this growing evidence, he told the Oireachtas Health Committee.

In 2021, a questionnaire from patients long ill with Covid at Prof. Lambert’s clinic, which has seen more than 1,000 patients, showed that many a year later suffered from persistent brain fog, cognitive problems, exhaustion, sleep disturbances and mental health problems suffered which they did not have before.

A study of patients at his clinic found that a third had significant neurocognitive defects at one year. And 15-20 percent had unexplained anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alcohol addiction to cope.

He said when the HSE Long Covid guidelines were drafted a year ago, the “target posts” shifted.

“It focuses on early post-Covid-19 follow-up with a group of eight pulmonary specialists and a cadre of nutritionists and podiatrists, not to mention psychologists.

“However, for those of us treating patients in the hospital, evidence was mounting at the time that the lungs were healing, the heart was healing, but the brain was not healing,” said Prof. Lambert.

He said he was surprised to see that Mater’s Infectious Diseases Unit has not been included as a follow-up facility, even though most of the scientific data on the subject has been generated in Ireland, and also: “I suspect more patients with long Covid are being treated than any other location in Ireland”.

He asked to meet the head of the national HSE clinic to discuss the findings of his research in April, but just last Friday he received a call – ahead of his appearance before the committee – asking to meet in the next few weeks .

Prof Lambert said he was proposing Mater to be the center for neurorehabilitation with a national network to support GPs because there are so many long Covid patients across the country and many are unable to travel because they are so ill.

He said it would focus on brain rehabilitation as patients with long Covid behave very similarly to patients who have suffered closed head injuries.

The team would include neurologists, psychologists and psychiatrists, and neurophysiotherapists.

He told the committee his team will help rewrite the guidelines in the HSE’s long Covid treatment plan.

Prof Lambert said he knows patients who are being discharged from post-Covid clinics as it is determined there is nothing wrong with them.

Some “jumped from one specialist to another and carried out tests worth many thousands of euros.

“I was recently in contact with a psychiatric nurse who has been ill with Covid for a year and is experiencing overwhelming anxiety and is unable to go to work.

“She was privately referred to a psychiatrist with the first appointment available in February 2023.”

Many patients with long-term Covid-19 illness are still being told there is nothing wrong with them and they need to be “alert” and exercise, but the reality is he’s treating healthcare workers he knows he’s never been missed a day at work.

In terms of treatment, Prof. Lambert said that the low-dose naltrexone seemed to improve the condition of patients who had been unwell for about a year on average.

There is no strong data showing that the Covid-19 vaccination prevents long-term Covid, and some people may be predisposed to it, he added. It can affect people who get a mild infectious dose.

Most people who contract Long-Covid recover within a year.

Prof Lambert, who said he continues to wear a face mask, said: “Covid-19 is an ever-evolving and changing virus and it is not going away.

“We have known for 18 months, based on accumulated scientific data, that brain damage is the problem with Long-Covid.

“We need a new plan and new resources and staff to help these patients recover and become active members of society again.” Top Medic Warning: We Must Heed Long-Covid’s Serious Impact on the Brain

Fry Electronics Team

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