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DR TIM ALLISON: NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy warns that contracting Covid-19 once should not lull us into a false sense of security about future infection


By Dr Tim Allison

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Dr Tim Allison
Dr Tim Allison

Covid is still with us, circulating in the community. We all would like it to disappear, but sadly that is wishful thinking.

The latest variants of Omicron are continuing to cause infections, which can still be serious. We are also seeing people getting infected for a second

time.

When we are infected with Covid we usually develop a level of natural immunity, but it is not complete immunity. We can get infected again, especially by a new variant of the virus. Having Covid once should not give us false security because we can get infected again.

We cannot be sure how common Covid will be in the future. This will depend on how many new variants appear and what effects they have. It will also depend on whether new effective vaccines are developed against variants.

However, even if there are few new variants and effective new vaccines, it is highly likely that Covid and the risk of reinfections will be with us for years.

For some people the effects of Covid infection last for a long time, even without another infection.

We don’t yet fully understand the way in which the effects of the Covid virus continue after the first infection. However, we do know that many other viruses can travel to different parts of the body and some viruses can remain with us for many months or years.

For example, the chickenpox virus can stay in the body for decades after first infection. It can then come out of hiding and produce shingles.

We are learning more about Covid all the time.

We have learnt that it can affect many different parts of the body, not just the lungs.

We have also learnt that the effects of Covid can last long after the initial infection. When someone has illness from Covid lasting for more than three months we can say that the person has long Covid.

Long Covid can affect people in different ways. For some people including those who have been seriously ill with acute Covid, it can be a continuation of problems with coughing and breathing. For others, it can affect different parts of the body causing symptoms such as tiredness, pain in the joints, heart disease or difficulty in memory and concentration that we might call brain fog.

We should remember though that these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses too.

We cannot yet predict who will develop long Covid, but different variants of the virus may be more or less likely to have long-term effects. It appears that between one in 10 and one in 20 people who have Covid will develop some long Covid symptoms, but the severity of these symptoms will vary.

We are still learning about the best treatments for long Covid, but it is likely that a range of different treatments will be needed.

Covid is much less prominent in the headlines than it was a few months ago, but its continuing presence in the community and the risks of both acute illness and long Covid mean that we must continue to protect ourselves and others.

• Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy.


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