UNSW has conducted one of the most extensive studies on long COVID in the world, which has come as a relief to some of the sufferers still living with symptoms.

When Julie Trell contracted coronavirus in San Francisco in March last year, she expected the symptoms to last two weeks.
Key points:

  • Since the pandemic began, more than 30,000 Australians have been infected with COVID
  • Some COVID patients experience symptoms months after contracting the virus, in what’s known as long COVID
  • A NSW study found a much lower rate of individuals were still experiencing symptoms after three months compared to previous studies

But months later, she was still suffering from the effects of COVID-19.
“The symptoms that I first had were coughs, fever, rashes and headaches,” she told 7.30.
“I lost my sense of smell three days later.
“Then in December, I had severe symptoms again  [including] a hacking cough. I don’t think I had a fever, but there was exhaustion, tiredness, and then this cough that scared me.”
Even now, Ms Trell, 51, is still suffering from significant fatigue that she says could be due to coronavirus.
“I really don’t know what to make of it,” she said.
“From the virus affecting my body to the virus as a whole affecting the world, there’s just so much [that’s] unknown.”
And she’s right  little is known about the phenomenon of long COVID, mainly due to the virus being relatively new.
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New research offers insight
In Sydney, associate professor of population health at UNSW, Bette Liu, has conducted one of the most extensive studies in the world on long COVID. 
Of the 30,000 coronavirus patients in Australia, Dr Liu followed about 3,000 cases in New South Wales, which was almost 95 per cent of people who contracted the virus in the state between January and May of last year.
“What’s unique about this study is that we tried to follow everyone who was diagnosed, and I think that’s a big difference [compared to] a lot of the other studies,” she said.
An extensive study followed 3,000 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 last year to learn more about the phenemenon known as long COVID. (AAP: Mick Tsikas
It found that of the patients studied, 80 per cent recovered within a month, and just under 5 per cent were still experiencing symptoms three months after their diagnosis.
“There’s a wide variety of symptoms  headaches, chest pains  people have had rashes,” Dr Liu said.
The five per cent figure is significantly less than estimates forecast by other reports, with some studies claiming that more than half of patients would continue to get symptoms months after diagnosis.
Dr Liu believes the large sample size of patients used in her report has provided the most accurate picture of people’s likelihood of getting long COVID.
Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 in Australia:
But she warned age and underlying health issues greatly increased the chance of a slower recovery.
“What’s really important about this study is that it provides an estimate about the likelihood of recovery from COVID-19,” she told 7.30.
“We also found that people who were older tended to have a longer time  or were less likely  to recover, and also people who had pre-existing health conditions [took longer to recover].”
But some who do not fall within that bracket are hoping this latest study can shed light on the seemingly endless illness. 
Mirabai Nicholson-McKellar, 36, contracted coronavirus in Berlin in March 2020. She is still living with the consequences and sees no end in sight.
“Before this, I was in my mid-30s, I was young, relatively fit, I was a surfer, I was living in a foreign country having adventures. And now I’m living in my brother’s caravan because I can’t work,” she said.
Mirabai Nicholson-McKellar was fit and healthy before she contracted COVID-19 last year. (Supplied: Mirabai Nicholson-McKellar.
She said not knowing when her symptoms would dissipate was the most frustrating aspect of her illness.
“It’s completely changed my life. It’s completely changed my ability to work, to function, to even have friends because I don’t have the energy,” she told 7.30. 
“That’s part of what’s challenging about it, is that there’s so much [that is] unknown. No-one can tell me if I’ll get better or when I’ll get better.
“I’m really relieved to hear that there’s research into long COVID happening because it’s incredibly difficult.
“My doctors and people [who are] trying [to] look after me are saying, ‘I don’t know, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, I don’t know how to help you.'”
Ms Trell shares Ms Nicholson-McKellar’s sentiment.
Life for her after coronavirus has been challenging. She has lost her job and she’s still struggling to return to normal health.
Julie Trell’s new companion, Hershee, has helped her mental wellbeing. (ABC News: Elena De Bruijne 
She bought a puppy, Hershee, to help her mentally heal. And she hopes something good can come from her uniquely long bout of the virus.
“While there is uncertainty for what the virus has done, it’s actually [creating] more research into other viruses or symptoms,” she said.
Watch the full story tonight on 7.30 on ABC TV and iview.
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