With a recent study estimating that over 2 million adults in England may have had long Covid, efforts to improve the understanding of the condition are ongoing. A number of wellness and rehabilitation retreats are being specially calibrated to help those suffering with the aftereffects of the virus. Abi Millar speaks to professionals from the Lanserhof and SHA Wellness clinics about the role hospitality venues can play in helping patients overcome long Covid.
Eighteen months into the pandemic, there is a tentative sense that the worst is behind us. With most of Europe vaccinated, and many restrictions lifted, most of us have been able to return to an approximation of our normal lives.
Unfortunately, that is far from the case for the millions of people still suffering the after-effects of Covid-19 infection. Known as long Covid, this novel post-viral syndrome can manifest in many different ways and with varying degrees of severity. One study identified 203 different symptoms, ranging from fatigue and brain fog (the most common) to more obscure complications like ‘Covid toe’.
The prevalence of this condition is impossible to pin down – it depends on how you’re defining it. However, the React-2 study in the UK found that nearly 40% of people who’d had Covid-19 reported persistent symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks. Extrapolated to the whole population, that would mean two million people in England have, or have had, long Covid.
Treating these ‘long haulers’ will be a challenge for healthcare systems, even after the deadliest phase of the pandemic has receded. With so much still unknown about the condition, there is a lack of clear guidance on rehabilitation.
It is against this backdrop that a number of medical spas and wellness resorts have started offering Long Covid packages. Long Covid itself may be new, but viruses and post-viral syndromes are not. From the ancient Greek asclepions to the Victorian sanitoriums, people have long sought holistic healing in beautiful settings.
“From the very beginning, we knew that traditional and scientific medicine should be integrated as a whole,” say the managing team at SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain. “Traditional medicine helps the body to recover its balance by strengthening its own mechanisms, while Western medicine provides us with the tools that contribute to improve our physical condition. In SHA we consider that both approaches separately help, but unifying them is when we can really achieve significant and lasting results.”
While a typical Western clinic would focus on discrete syndromes and discrete symptoms – tackling the parts that have gone wrong – resorts like SHA are based around the concept of integrative wellness. Under this approach, mind and body are linked, treatments focus on the whole person, and Western medicine is used in conjunction with alternative healing modalities.
As such, they are used to treating patients with diffuse, non-specific ailments: burnout, chronic fatigue, poor mental health. SHA characterizes its guests as people who ‘live a frenetic life’, whereas Lanserhof Resorts hosts wealthy, jet-set clients in need of regeneration.
“Our guests are predominantly entrepreneurs or people in leadership positions,” says Nils Behrens, chief marketing officer at Lanserhof. “Not infrequently, they have achieved their career at the expense of their health. Now they want to help their bodies regenerate again.”
In this regard, it isn’t too much of a leap to treating long Covid. Lanserhof unveiled its Covid-19 programme as early as May 2020, even before we knew how protracted the recovery process could be. Since then, its offering has evolved significantly, with two designated Long Covid packages at the Lanserhof Lans resort in Austria.
Both packages include diagnostics, fasting, nutritional supplementation, exercise and ‘CellGym metabolic activation’, all designed to fight neuroinflammation. The advanced package is priced at €7,387 for two weeks, excluding accommodation.
“Unfortunately, as is usually the case in medicine, there is no one therapy that is right for everyone,” says Behrens. “Nor can one say that a symptom has only one cause. Our task is to find all the causes and to help the body holistically to stop the inflammation in order to regenerate sustainably. Our packages are always adapted to the patient after examination and consultation with the doctor.”
He describes the Lanserhof concept as ‘a combination of the most valuable insights that nature and science have to offer’ – fusing naturopathy, energy medicine, psychology, psychoneuroimmunology, chronomedicine and advanced modern medicine. Fasting is core to its methodology, following the principle that intermittent fasting helps to regulate inflammation.
“Long Covid is a silent inflammation reaction – the virus is no longer there, but the inflammatory reaction continues and maintains itself,” says Behrens. “The anti-inflammatory mechanisms in the body are massively weakened, and the inflammation also affects the brain, giving rise to chronic fatigue. We are the experts in detecting this kind of silent inflammation and stopping it.”
SHA Wellness offers a seven-day Post Covid programme starting at €2,600 for the basic programme, excluding accommodation. Following an initial health assessment and a series of specialised diagnostic tests, the patient can add specific treatment packs targeted towards their particular symptoms.
“Because the virus does not affect all people equally, we rely on the coordination of multiple specialists following the principles of SHA’s integrative approach,” say the managing team. “It was decided that the post-COVID health program would be structured around a basic programme, with the addition of packs.”
SHA’s scientific committee began by identifying the most common post-Covid symptoms. Eight different groups of symptoms were identified: immune, respiratory, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, psychological, neurological, urological and thrombotic. Then the team grouped together therapies to match.
“Each pack consists of cutting-edge treatments and therapies already existing at SHA, such as intravenous laser therapy, cryotherapy, stem cell treatments, breathing techniques and isometric training,” say the managing team. “There are also specific nutrition plans to strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation in the body. Our mission is to provide life-transforming experience, in which guests achieve an optimal state of physical, mental and spiritual well-being.”
Vivamayr in Altaussee offers a Post-Covid programme featuring everything from aquagymnastics to ‘nasal reflex zone’ therapy, while Park Igls in Tyrol offers a therapeutic module called ‘Fit after Covid’. Euphoria Retreat in Greece has a group retreat called ‘Feel Alive Again’, which, while not specifically targeted at long-Covid patients, does seek to promote ‘post-pandemic rest, recovery and renewal’.
Travel further afield, and the RAKxa retreat outside Bangkok has a long Covid package based around traditional Thai medicine. This includes a dramatic Ya-Pao ritual, in which a herbal paste is placed on patients’ chests and set on fire to promote respiratory detoxification.
At the pricier end of the spectrum, Paracelsus Recovery, an exclusive rehabilitation centre in Switzerland and the UK, charges 100,000 CHF a week for a fully immersive course of treatment. The client will have 15 staff members at their beck and call, with an approach tailored to their individual needs.
These packages are expensive, and, it should be stressed, unproven to work for long Covid – and none of the clinics mentioned have been forthcoming about how many people have booked. That said, there is likely a sizeable demographic with the need, and the means, to seek treatment.
At the very least, patients will benefit from the personalised care and attention, even if some of the individual treatment modalities may not pass muster in a randomised controlled trial.
The clinics’ locations should be considered too. “The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician,” wrote the 16th century doctor Paracelsus, whose folk wisdom is backed up by modern science. Simply put, coastal air and verdant hills are more conducive to healing than the sterile, institutional environment of a hospital.
Not accidentally, SHA Wellness is perched on a hillside in the Sierra Helada Natural Park, overlooking the bay of Altea.
“The region is considered to be one of the most favourable in the world for our health according to the World Health Organisation,” say the managing team. “Also, our guests can enjoy an extraordinary microclimate – with 330 days of sunshine a year, this allows for all kinds of outdoor activities in contact with nature to promote wellbeing and internal balance.”
Lanserhof Lans is situated just outside Innsbruck in the Tyrol region of Austria, with a view onto the snowy Alpine peaks.
“We believe that regeneration is only possible effectively in a real place of power. Nature, architecture and also the energy of the place play an important role,” says Behrens.
There is something curiously timeless about this sentiment, despite the very recent emergence of the novel coronavirus. In years gone by, a patient with lingering symptoms might have gone to convalesce by the sea. Today they can do something similar in a more formalised capacity. These clinics are not intended as a quick fix, but rather as a point of reset, setting long-haulers back on the path to better health.
“We have a saying here: health is not everything – but without health everything is nothing. That is why it is so important for us to work for the sustainable preservation of health instead of simply eliminating the symptoms in the short term,” says Behrens.
This article appears in the Autumn 2021 edition of Hotel Management International