What is long COVID
You should expect to recover from the first signs and symptoms of COVID-19 within 2 to 4 weeks. You should be back to all activities you were doing before COVID-19 within 12 weeks. Yet, some people report a range of symptoms beyond the standard 12-week period.
Long COVID is a general term used to describe symptoms that continue or develop beyond the standard time of recovery.
In New Zealand, we divide long COVID into 2 groups:
- Ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 — you can experience signs and symptoms of COVID-19 for 4 to 12 weeks after your initial infection.
- Post-COVID-19 syndrome — when you have signs and symptoms that develop during or after an infection. These continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by any other conditions.
Long COVID can affect any system of the body, and the severity of symptoms may fluctuate over time. The type of symptoms someone experiences may also vary over time. Symptoms often improve over time.
Who can get long COVID
Anyone can develop long COVID, but it is more common if you had severe symptoms when you first got sick.
A second COVID-19 infection could trigger long COVID.
You are at more risk of getting long COVID if you:
- are aged 50 years and over
- have more than 1 underlying chronic medical condition
- are obese
- are female
- had many symptoms in your initial infection
- were admitted to hospital with acute COVID-19.
Long COVID is less common in children and adolescents.
Long COVID symptoms
Symptoms of long COVID can persist for weeks or sometimes months. Some of the more commonly reported symptoms are below.
General symptoms include:
- abdominal pain
- joint pain
- muscle pain
- nausea and vomiting
- weight loss
- reduced appetite
- sleep issues.
Cardiovascular symptoms include:
- chest tightness
- chest pain
- skipped, extra or irregular heartbeats (palpitations).
Respiratory symptoms include:
Neurological symptoms include:
- loss of concentration or memory issues (cognitive impairment, 'brain fog')
- sleep disturbance
- pins and needles and numbness
- delirium (in older people)
- lack of strength in arms or legs (mobility impairment)
- visual disturbance.
Ear, nose and throat symptoms include:
- sore throat
- loss of taste or smell
- blocked nose (nasal congestion).
Avoiding long COVID
The best way to prevent long COVID is to prevent infection with COVID-19. Vaccines reduce the risk of long COVID by lowering the chances of getting COVID-19.
There is also evidence that vaccination reduces the risk of people who get COVID-19 going on to develop long COVID.
Vaccination against COVID-19 is available to all New Zealand adults and children 5 years and over.
Other ways to protect yourself
To protect yourself, your whānau, and your community, it is important to keep up the healthy habits we know.
Along with staying up to date with your vaccinations, it is a good idea to:
- stay home if you are sick
- limit time in crowded indoor spaces
- wear a face mask in indoor public places
- physically distance when indoors
- improve ventilation
- cough or sneeze into your elbow
- wash or sanitise your hands.
Managing long COVID
Researchers and healthcare providers are still working out the best ways to manage long COVID. There are currently no specific treatments.
Your healthcare provider can help you manage the symptoms that affect you the most. Talk to them if you get any new symptoms or your symptoms get worse.
Your health provider can connect you to support services including:
- nutrition and diet advice
- occupational therapy
- speech and language therapy
- clinical exercise physiologists
- mental health and wellbeing support.
It is important not to rush your recovery. Make sure you get enough rest, pace yourself and plan what you are going to do.
You can call the dedicated COVID-19 Healthline for advice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for free on 0800 358 5453.
New Zealand resources
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