Outpatient services, consultations needed for COVID-19 aftereffects

As there was a surge in the number of patients infected with the novel coronavirus amid the fifth wave of infections, the number of people suffering from the aftereffects of COVID-19 has been increasing. In some cases, they have no choice but to quit their jobs, and government support is urgently needed.

In August, when the fifth wave hit its peak, the consultation service for COVID-19 aftereffects set up by the Tokyo metropolitan government received 817 consultations, three times more than the previous month. In Osaka Prefecture, specialized outpatient sections at hospitals and clinics were overwhelmed by patients suffering from ongoing symptoms. Appointments at a hospital in the prefecture are said to be booked up for several months.

Many patients suffering from what has been termed “long COVID” complain of dullness along with lethargy and difficulty in breathing, as well as problems with taste and smell, and hair loss. The cause is unclear, and symptoms vary from person to person.

Although many people recover naturally, a survey by the National Center for Global Health and Medicine has found that sometimes the aftereffects are prolonged, with 10% of infected people still suffering from symptoms one year after. Patients with lingering symptoms must be terribly afraid they will never get better.

Drugs to ease the symptoms and treatments to improve patients’ condition through rehabilitation have been offered, but the volume of such opportunities has not kept pace with the increase in the number of patients, and it is difficult to say that there are enough hospitals they can visit nationwide.

The central and local governments must set up specialized outpatient hospital sections and clinics and consultation services in each region, and establish a system where patients in need can receive immediate treatment. It is also very important to promote research and develop new treatment methods.

Patients suffering from aftereffects tend to be young and middle-aged people in their 20s to 50s, and supporting their lives when they become unable to work has become a challenge.

Of the patients who visited a university hospital in Kanagawa Prefecture, 20% were absent from work and 10% were forced to work shorter hours. Many of them were also forced to quit their jobs.

Under the current system, company employees and civil servants who take days off to recover from illness and therefore lose their salaries are entitled to receive sickness benefits from public health insurance. If workers become infected with the novel coronavirus while on the job, they could possibly receive benefits from the industrial accident compensation insurance.

But are these measures alone enough? The government must investigate the living conditions of patients with long COVID and come up with necessary support measures.

The aftereffects of COVID-19 are still not fully understood by society, and sometimes family members or superiors say that it is just their imagination. This puts further pressure on suffering patients who cannot move about as they wish.

There are reports from overseas that people who have been inoculated twice with COVID-19 vaccines not only have a greatly reduced risk of infection, but are also less likely to suffer aftereffects if they do become infected. Those who have not been inoculated are advised to consider receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 8, 2021.