Support for long-COVID sufferers in Hawke’s Bay

Hundreds of Hawke’s Bay people are struggling to bounce back to normal after having COVID-19, but support is at hand.

Kate Te Pou, Nurse Practitioner at Te Whatu Ora Te Matau a Māui is part of the COVID Community Outreach Service which provides support to whaiora/patients when further assessment is needed to help people manage their health at home.

People are referred by their GP and then assessed by the Outreach team who determines if they need to see a Nurse Practitioner, an Allied Health professional or another service for either an acute COVID infection, post-COVID syndrome or Long-COVID rehabilitation.

Mrs Te Pou says most of the referrals coming through are people at risk of complications from their symptoms or have underlying health conditions.

“I provide an at-risk assessment in the person’s home, via telephone or at a primary care facility. I’m definitely seeing more people with Long-COVID – which is defined as having symptoms more than 12 weeks after the initial COVID-19 infection.”

Mrs Te Pou says anyone who has had COVID can develop Long-COVID.

“Women aged between 30 and 60 and those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease appear to be at a higher risk. However, your likelihood of getting Long-COVID is reduced by vaccination – so vaccination remains our best defence,” she says.

The majority of people referred to Mrs Te Pou are suffering from shortness of breath, chest pain and palpitations with associated anxiety.

“Some people are struggling to concentrate at work due to brain fog or suffering from fatigue that sends them back to bed for an afternoon nap and despite napping they never feel refreshed or recovered.”

Mrs Te Pou says it’s not just physical activity that triggers fatigue but also cognitive thinking and emotions so an enjoyable afternoon with whānau could also leave someone fatigued.

“Fatigue is leaving many people feeling overwhelmed and frustrated as most had previously been able to do their daily activities, work or even attend the gym, without concern. Now simple tasks have become exhausting.”

Mrs Te Pou says rest is the best way to get over fatigue and pacing your days – so doing what you ‘need’ to do one day but leaving the things you ‘want’ to do for the next day.

People struggling with breathlessness need to remember the “three P’s: pause, position, and pursed lips, known as recovery breathing”, she says.

“Look at rugby players after they’ve scored a try, they pause to catch their breath, they often bend forward at the hips to allow more oxygen in and really suck the air in with pursed lips.”

Mrs Te Pou acknowledges it is frustrating to suffer from ongoing symptoms which in itself is causing a lot of anxiety and concern for individuals, their whānau, friends, and work colleagues.

“Being unwell can be stressful and your mood may be further affected by frustrations about not being able to return to daily activities or work. It’s important to remember that your symptoms are a normal part of recovery. Worrying and thinking about your symptoms can often make them worse.

“You can try relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and mindfulness to improve your mood. If you feel like you need counselling support you can ring 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor. You can also talk with your GP as there are programmes available in your practice to help manage these concerns.”

Mrs Te Pou says most people will be able to manage their ongoing symptoms, such as fatigue and breathlessness at home with resources like the Te Whatu Ora Guide to self-management for COVID-19 illness.

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