A Winnipeg woman says she still has lingering symptoms from her COVID-19 diagnosis and is having trouble finding follow-up care. (CTV News Photo Michelle Gerwing)

Perceived hearing loss, pressure in her head, and a racing heart.

A month after one Winnipeg woman’s COVID-19 diagnosis, she told CTV News she still has these lingering symptoms and is having trouble finding follow-up care.

She said she first noticed symptoms on January 2, 2021, and tested positive three days later.

The woman, who did not want to be identified due to her line of work, said she is frustrated with her experience in trying to get help to manage her long-term symptoms.

“I am fortunate enough that I am familiar with the health-care system to some extent to be able to navigate through it and try and reach out to the appropriate people,” she said. “But I am still disappointed in the fact that I really don’t have any answers and I can only imagine that other people are probably struggling with this too.”

She said she has gone to an emergency room three times; twice for her racing heart and once for hearing loss.

The first time she went to the ER for her racing heart, an EKG was completed and she said she was told she would get better as time went on.

“But fast-forward a month later, and I still wasn’t having any relief from the racing heart so I went back,” she said. 

She described her next trip to the ER as disappointing.

“They had said that a cardiologist wouldn’t see me for about three to four months,” she said. “I’d have to have these symptoms for that long before they would consider assessing me. There was no real follow-up plan as to when I could expect this to go away, or any plan to explore it a bit further to see if there was anything actually going on.”

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said there is no surveillance definition for long-haul symptoms in Manitoba, meaning it would not need to be reported to public health. He said long-haul COVID-19 is more of a clinical diagnosis at the moment, but the province will continue to learn more about the effects.

“We’ll learn more about the constellation of symptoms and learn more over the natural history of that condition over time,” he said.

A written statement from Shared Health confirmed there is no central database tracking post-COVID patients who continue to experience long-term symptoms well after their infectious period is over. 

The statement said generally long-term symptoms include lung-related illness, persistent fatigue, anosmia (loss of smell) and cardiac disease.

Dr. Roussin said people who are experiencing long-term symptoms, should see their primary care provider who can make an assessment and diagnosis, and refer them to a specialist if necessary.

Even though it is not officially tracked, Shared Health provided the following information to CTV News on post-COVID patients in Manitoba:

  • Respirologists at Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg are seeing approximately six new post-COVID patients per week with persistent pulmonary symptoms.
  • Respirologists in the community are also seeing an unknown number of post-COVID patients with ongoing pulmonary symptoms.
  • Family physicians are also referring an unknown number of patients with ongoing pulmonary symptoms directly to the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program.

Manitoba also has a pilot project called Virtual Outpatient COVID Monitoring (VCOP). It is based at HSC Winnipeg and supports remote home monitoring for COVID-19 patients discharged from the hospital.

Shared Health said since Dec. 14, 2020 — 35 patients have been accepted into the program, with most once admitted into a COVID unit. Only one has needed to be admitted again into hospital.

The VCOP project has saved 152 hospital days and Shared Health said there are plans in the works to expand the program to other hospitals.

The woman with long-term symptoms that CTV News spoke with never needed to be hospitalized.

She said she still doesn’t feel well enough to get back to her regular daily routine.

“My emotions are all over the place. I do definitely have anxiety over my symptoms. I have no idea of when I can expect things to get better.”

She would like a post-COVID clinic to open in Manitoba to address the concerns of long haulers.

“Long-haulers are going to make up a pretty big demographic of COVID survivors,” she said. “The more people that get infected, the more COVID long haulers there will be.”

“There needs to be some sort of service out there.”

She appreciates that COVID-19 is something new and the world is still learning about the effects. 

“Unfortunately, there are people like myself out there that would like to get on with their lives, and it’s not quite possible because of these lingering symptoms that are actually pretty debilitating.”