New Montreal clinic will be part of Quebec network studying long COVID, Lyme disease

MONTREAL — A new clinic opened Monday in Montreal to treat patients and help researchers better understand two conditions with different origins but similar symptoms — long COVID and Lyme disease.

The centre at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital is one 15 specialized facilities announced by the Quebec government in May to study the two infectious diseases.

Although most people recover from COVID-19 infections within two to four weeks, some patients even with mild cases of the disease end up with symptoms that last much longer.

"Actually it's very diverse, but you have people that have difficulty breathing, cardiac problems, pain, fatigue," said Lucie Tremblay, the associate CEO of the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, a regional health board. "It really, really varies, which makes it even more difficult to intervene."

Long COVID symptoms can make daily activities such as working or going to school difficult and vary in intensity from day to day.

“As you can imagine, research and knowledge about treating this illness — known as long COVID syndrome — is emerging and rapidly evolving," Dr. Karl Weiss, head of infectious diseases at the Jewish General Hospital, said in a statement. "Our goal in establishing the referral centre is to provide patients with leading-edge care, while improving our understanding of the disease."

Tremblay said the clinics will treat patients with a COVID diagnosis confirmed by a PCR test or a physician and with symptoms that persist after 12 weeks and that weren't present before infection. About five to 10 per cent of COVID cases have such symptoms, Tremblay said, but not all will end up being seen at the clinic.

"To come to our clinic, you need to have a complex situation. What can be taken care of by your regular physician or nurse practitioner should be taken care in those offices," Tremblay said. Those using the specialized clinics need the expertise of "several different professionals," she said.

The clinic team includes specialists in internal medicine, pulmonology, cardiology and infectious diseases as well as nurses, social workers and physiotherapists to "help the person with the disease to find ways to ease the pain or ease the symptoms over time." There will also be a research component to better understand the conditions.

The clinic will also treat people with Lyme disease who have symptoms that persist well beyond the regular treatment of the tick-borne disease. "These are both very complex diseases sometimes to take care of, and you need the expertise of an interdisciplinary team," Tremblay said.

The Health Department says most of the 15 clinics will begin offering services this fall, with several already open across the province. The network is co-ordinated by the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal and consists of five referral centres and 10 satellite clinics in different parts of the province.

The Quebec government has set aside more than $20 million for the project, including $4 million this year to set up the centres.

In December 2021, before the fifth wave of COVID-19, officials estimated 23,000 people would require the services offered under the three-year clinic pilot project. Tremblay said Monday the clinic at the Montreal hospital expects to treat 1,000 patients from the city and surrounding area over the three years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2022.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press