France’s new health minister to continue tackling long COVID bane

Long Covid is still hard to identify and is thought to affect 10 to 30% of people infected with Covid-19. [fizkes/Shutterstock]

France’s new health minister, Brigitte Bourguignon, will continue the fight against long COVID kickstarted by her predecessor, as Brussels recommends part-time work for those with persistent COVID-related symptoms. EURACTIV France reports.

Long COVID is found in patients who still show symptoms of the disease –  which include exhaustion, shortness of breath, post-exercise discomfort, and pain – more than three months after having tested positive for COVID-19. While being hard to detect, it is thought to affect 10-30% of COVID-19 patients.

Bourguignon will continue to address the long COVID issue and follow the roadmap set out by her predecessor, Olivier Véran, the health ministry told EURACTIV.

In March, Véran set out the priorities to tackle the disease, which include better management and knowledge of the disease among health professionals and the population at large.

“We expect Bourguignon to continue on the same path as Véran, and to go further with true recognition and true care and to have research,” Céline Castera of the patient association AprèsJ20 told EURACTIV.

A challenge

The disease represents a considerable challenge for employers and employees, a report on the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace published by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work on 20 May has found.

Most find it difficult to go back to work as they feel physical and psychological exhaustion. Patients often speak of “brain fog”, which they say makes it harder to stay focused and attentive.

According to the report, workers should do no more than 70% of what they feel capable of because “fatigue can cause relapse and further delay recovery.”

“This suggests that there is a need for a specific policy within companies or at least an explicit recognition of long COVID in existing sick leave policies,” the EU agency added.

The agency also recommended extending sick leave because recovery “can be very slow due to exhaustion or other symptoms.”

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A study found that serious COVID-19 illness is linked to an increase in the risk of long-term adverse mental health implications, such as depression and anxiety.

Unable to work

Some COVID patients have even said that they had to stop work altogether.

Céline Castera, a 41-year-old nurse by trade, was forced to stop working permanently in September of last year after she spent two months bedridden in a wheelchair.

Castera was infected with COVID-19 in March 2020 but when she returned to work, she experience intense fatigue. It was later confirmed that she had long COVID, which forced her to stop working for a year.

She returned to work in May 2021, but only part-time. Upon returning from a summer holiday in September of that year, she felt exhausted and was forced to stop working permanently.

Castera and the members of Aprèsj20 are now calling for long COVID to be recognised.

The lack of data and recognition of the disease leads to “difficulties in taking care of the disease”, said Castera.

Without recognition, patients are also left in precarious positions as they are forced to quit their jobs or switch to part-time work, which means they cannot access long-term sick leave, among other things, she added.

“Training doctors is also necessary. We also need research to progress,” Castera added.

France’s public health agency Santé Publique France told EURACTIV long COVID is still being analysed, without giving further details.

[Edited by Daniel Eck/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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