Manitobans living with symptoms of long COVID-19 can now find more information about the illness online.
As of Wednesday, Shared Health's website includes advice, self-management tools and resources about the disease for both adults and children.
"By putting it in a provincial format like this, I think it helps for folks to see themselves represented there, because one of the things we do hear from clients over and over again is they kind of thought they were the only person who was struggling with this," said Laurel Rose, Continuing Care Operations Leader with Winnipeg Regional Health Authority in an interview with CBC.
Shared Health's website describes long COVID as the presence of COVID-19 symptoms three months after infection that cannot be attributed to other medical conditions. Symptoms can include brain fog, loss of taste, vertigo, heart palpitations and fatigue.
Manitoba doesn't track long COVID cases, but a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in five people age 18-64 who were infected with COVID-19 experienced at least one incidental condition that could be attributed to their infection.
The newly launched resources were created with the help of a working group of roughly 20 people including experts from several health disciplines who looked at similar initiatives in other provinces.
The goal is to help with self-management of common symptoms but also link people to programs and services, said Rose.
"Certainly it will continue to be a work in progress as we see what the demand for services is and what pieces may be missing from what we've already got out there for people to access through the website," said Rose.
Rose became involved with the working group when the health authority anticipated — and then started seeing — demand for long COVID care in various existing rehabilitation areas including the Geriatric Day Hospital and the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program.
Shared Health is also launching new resources for health-care providers in the province.
Dr. Cornelia van Ineveld, a geriatrician and co-lead of the long COVID working group, said it's important to understand that COVID is a multi-system disease.
"There's a set of screening questions so that you might feel that your main symptom is shortness of breath, but it's important for your provider to explore a whole bunch of things to figure out 'Okay, is it only shortness of breath and I need to really do some lung X-rays and send you to a breathing specialist and a physio, or wait a minute, yes you're short of breath but you also have anxiety and PTSD and you're having trouble swallowing," said van Ineveld.
"So it gives the providers that structure of all the other things to consider."
In Manitoba, patients with long COVID are typically managed by their primary care provider, who can refer the patient to specialists if symptoms become more serious.
Providers will also be able to access a list of existing public and private rehabilitation programs for long COVID, van Ineveld said.
She said up until now, the focus has been on using the multi-disciplinary programs already available when treating long COVID patients in Manitoba.
"Now that we're going to potentially see more demand, then we can revisit whether we need something beyond our existing resources," said van Ineveld.