Some 20 per cent of 11,000 West Australians who caught COVID during a 19-day study period last year reported ongoing symptoms three months after they were infected. The finding was one of several major insights from a major research project into long COVID in this State. Other findings were: * the risk of developing long COVID was 50 per cent higher for women than men * the more doses of COVID vaccine participants received, the lower the risk of developing long COVID * Older West Australians aged from 50 to 69 were more than 50 per cent more likely to develop long COVID than 18-to-29-year-olds * the risk was 50 per cent higher in individuals who reported pre-existing health conditions at the time of COVID infection The findings are outlined in a report soon be published in the Medical Journal of Australia. The study’s senior author, Dr Paul Effler, from WA Health’s Communicable Disease Control Directorate, said the insights could help determine the State’s future healthcare needs. “WA was in a unique situation when we were first hit by the Omicron variant because the community was already highly vaccinated,” Dr Effler said. “This meant that information about long COVID from other countries which had experienced waves of earlier variants and had lower vaccination rates might not be relevant to WA. “A key finding of our study is that the more doses of COVID vaccine participants received, the lower the risk of developing Long COVID.” “This finding is similar to that observed in some settings internationally and reinforces the importance of booster vaccinations for reducing the risk of developing Long COVID.” The research project involved an initial survey three months following a diagnosis of COVID-19 and a second survey six months post-diagnosis. Research participants were drawn from the almost 23,000 adults who tested positive to COVID-19 between 16 July and 3 August last year and who agreed to be contacted for future research. Dr Effler said of the more than 11,000 adults who responded to the three month survey, around one in five reported ongoing symptoms. “This suggests the risk of developing long COVID following infection with Omicron might be as high as it was for earlier variants,” he said. “While our finding is higher than that reported in a review of Australian data from earlier in the pandemic, it is similar to the prevalence from a Queensland study in which 21 per cent of Omicron cases reported ongoing symptoms at three months.” Long Covid sufferers experienced an average of six symptoms, the most frequent being tiredness and fatigue that interfered with daily life (70 per cent) and difficulty thinking or concentrating, commonly referred to as brain fog (60 per cent). Just under half experienced both sleep problems (47 per cent) and a cough (46 per cent). Almost one in five respondents (18 per cent) with long COVID, who had previously been working or studying, reduced or discontinued their work or studies because of their poor health. More than a third saw a GP for their symptoms, but emergency department presentations and hospitalisations were very rare. “It’s clear that general practitioners have played a significant role in managing the burden of long COVID in WA, ” Dr Effler said. Of the participants who had Long COVID at three months who participated in a follow-up survey at six months, 40 per cent had recovered, but the remainder (1320 individuals) reported they were still experiencing symptoms, most commonly fatigue, brain fog and sleep problems. New vaccines, which more effectively target the currently circulating sub-variants of the virus, become publicly available in Australia tomorrow. The Federal Government has secured about three million doses of the XBB1.5 vaccines. As revealed by The West Australian last month, not everyone who wants it will be able to get the vaccines straight away. Australians aged under 65 will be unable to boost their immunity with the new vaccines if they’ve already had one dose of the older vaccines. The only exception is if they are immunocompromised. Those aged 75 and over were recommended to receive two doses this year. They’ll be eligible for the XBB1.5 vaccines if they’ve only had one dose so far. Likewise, those aged between 65 and 74 can be considered for the vaccines by their doctors if they’ve had just one dose. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is due to meet in the New Year to consider when other age groups can get access to the new vaccines, which are already widely available in North America and Europe.