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Long COVID remains a concern

pandemic preparation waving colorful national flag of india on a gray background with text coronavirus covid-19 . concept.. COVID-19 cases in India illustration. Indian COVID-19 cases concept. Cases of COVID-19 crisis in India concept. Image credit: luzitanija / 123rf. Used to illustrate one million deaths due to the pandemic. covid-19 vaccine supplies in india, oxygen shortage. Long COVID concept.
Image credit: luzitanija / 123rf

So-called ‘long COVID’, where survivors of COVID-19 continue to experience debilitating symptoms even requiring hospitalisation, remains a concern for India’s healthcare system.

As The Economic Times reports, “doctors are dealing with [a] rising number of long Covid patients with symptoms like persistent body ache, low grade fever, lung fibrosis, pulmonary embolism and brain fogging in the outpatient departments (OPD) of hospitals. Many have mental health issues including anxiety, depression, confusion and loss of memory, new onset of diabetes and hypertension.” This is according to the inputs of several doctors who spoke to the publication.

The ET report cited a Max Hospital Healthcare study. The report quotes Dr Sandeep Bhudhiraja, group medical director of Max Super Specialty Hospital in Saket, Delhi as saying “of the 990 patients studied, 31.8 percent…had post Covid symptoms beyond three months, and eleven percent of the patients continued to have some form of symptoms for as long as 9-12 months from the onset of disease. Of the notable findings, fatigue was found to be the most reported with 12.5 percent cases followed by myalgia (9.3 percent). Persistence of breathlessness was also reported significantly more often in those who had severe disease at the onset.”

A review study published in the International Journal of General Medicine last month highlighted the importance of recognising the risk long COVID poses. “There is no wide awareness of the long-Covid-19 case scenarios even among healthcare workers. Thus it becomes imperative to emphasise this emerging clinical entity and disseminate awareness,” said Dr Mandeep Garg, lead author from the department of radiodiagnosis and imaging at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh. “There should be a single point of contact for follow up and then depending upon the initial scrutiny of symptoms, the patients can be further referred to super speciality clinics.” 

As we reported in January, long COVID is an ominous portent for those who contract the novel coronavirus. Lancet research, covering 1,733 patients in Wuhan where the virus is thought to have originated, indicated that 76 percent of patients experienced at least one symptom six months on. These included fatigue or muscle weakness among 63 percent, sleeping difficulties among 26 percent, and anxiety or depression among 23 percent. Health Issues India has also noted the importance of discussing post-traumatic stress disorder among those who contract and recover from COVID-19, as mental health issues increased twenty percent from the onset of the pandemic – affecting one in five Indians. This is to say nothing of the emergence of conditions such as mucormycosis – or “black fungus” – and avascular necrosis – or “bone death” – presenting in COVID-19 survivors. 

Ultimately, the takeaway is that we have to be prepared for the lasting effects of COVID-19 on our bodies and our minds. This will require awareness among healthcare professionals, research into the most common side-effects in the aftermath, and a conversation among ourselves about the mental and physical trauma of a disease which has cost many lives, will continue to do so, and will continue to plague us. The need of the hour is knowledge and compassion – and access to treatment for all who need it.  

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