Supporting employees with long COVID

Correct at the time of writing on 15th March 2021

 

As you’re probably aware, the COVID-19 virus affects everyone differently. It can be life-threatening for some, while others have no symptoms at all. There are also those who experience what’s known as long COVID, which is when they continue to feel unwell for more than four weeks after their symptoms began.

 

If any of your employees are struggling with long COVID, it can be a difficult illness to manage and a genuine worry for those concerned. But once you know the symptoms, the risks and the support channels available, you can put yourself in a much better position to offer a helping hand.

 

The medical definition

Although the term is a little overused on social media, from a medical point of view, long COVID is defined in one of two ways:

 

  1. Ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 – coronavirus symptoms that continue from four to 12 weeks
  2. Post COVID-19 syndrome – symptoms that carry on after 12 weeks and can’t be explained by any other diagnosis.

The symptoms

One of the problems with long COVID is that there are so many different symptoms, which can often change as the illness progresses. Just when the person seems to have turned a corner, they might see the virus flare up again in a completely different way.

 

This stop-start nature of the condition can really set your employees back, so it’s important to be patient and give them all the time they need to make a complete recovery. It may also help to look out for symptoms, which are unrelated to other conditions. Typically, these might include one or more of the following:

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Struggling to think clearly
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Lost sense of taste or smell
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Breathlessness
  • Lung problems
  • Gut problems
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Kidney problems
  • Skin rashes
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety and depression

The people most at risk

The latest research suggests that long COVID affects around one in 10 people. While it’s still early days, there is some evidence to suggest that it is more common in women, older people and those who experience more of the symptoms during the first week of being ill.

 

The right treatment

Sadly, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to long COVID. Because everyone’s symptoms are different, the treatments tend to be personalised to the individual. If you are worried about an employee who has had the virus for more than four weeks, the best thing to do is advise them to see their GP.

 

Depending on the severity of their condition, the doctor may refer them for further tests or treatments. Alternatively, they may send them to a local multi-disciplinary service, where they would be able to get advice on how to manage their symptoms and support their recovery.

 

The best way to help

As an employer, the best way to support an employee with long COVID is to be flexible and understanding. They are likely to have good days and bad. So, you may need to rethink their working schedule and have contingency plans in place for when they are unable to carry out their day-to-day tasks.

 

Talking to them about their concerns is a good place to start. If they’re worried about work, showing your support can make a big difference. In practical terms, you might also want to pass on the following resources, which have been set up specifically for people who are struggling with their COVID recovery:

 

To find out more about your company health care options with regard to COVID-19, call MMB today on 0800 023 2785 or complete the form below.

Disclaimer:

This article has been written in collaboration with Bupa, one of MMB’s insurance providers. It is for information only and is not specific advice. It is based on our current understanding of the attributed research which may change in the future.

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