Patient A was diagnosed with Covid-19 on September 15. She was out of quarantine in two weeks, without any need of hospitalization. Free to go back to normal life in the middle of a pandemic, she  continued experiencing shortness of breath and weakness along with body aches. A- who had been an active person can hardly walk one flight of stairs without experiencing joint pain and shortness of breath. Four months after her initial covid diagnosis, she is still experiencing symptoms.

What patient A has been experiencing is called Long Covid – a condition being reported by thousands of people who have contracted and then tested negative for covid-19, but still experience symptoms. In some cases, the fatigue, pain and loss of smell and taste has lasted for up to six months.

Still relatively new, the novel coronavirus is presenting challenges for which long term studies are being conducted. These studies will range from 5-25 years. What further complications can arise from coronavirus, only time and long-term studies will reveal. One surprising aspect is that people who have experienced the mild form of covid-19 are also experiencing long covid.

Professor David Strain from the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Clinic confirms by saying ‘ We’ve got no doubt long covid exists’.

Symptoms of Long Covid

Long Covid has many symptoms, nearly as wide ranging as the disease itself but the most common feature seems to be fatigue. A fatigue which in some cases can be crippling, even in a younger age cohort and previously healthy and active individuals.

The Mayo clinic website lists long covid symptoms as

  1. Muscle pain
  2. Headache
  3. Loss of taste or smell
  4. Memory and sleep problems
  5. Hair loss
  6. Organ damage (heart, lungs and the brain)
  7. Blood vessel problems
  8. Mental health problems

If any of the symptoms last over 4 weeks, it is considered to be long covid.

Studies

A number of studies are being carried out to study the long-term effects of Covid-19. In Rome, Italy in May 2020, 143 hospitalized COVID-19 patients were followed up. 87.4% of the patients reported at least one long lasting and persistent symptom. The top ones being shortness of breath and fatigue. (1)

Long COVID Support Groups

For a disease as new and evolving as Covid-19, a crowd sourcing with the use of internet can be very helpful. This pandemic, previously described as an info-demic is also unique in the way that it provides an immense gathering of data online possible, which can be used for assessment and comparison. Support groups can also help patients by making them feel less stigmatized and isolated.

What Can Pakistan Do?

A national database which is capable of a long-term follow-up of patients, needs to be established. The population in Pakistan has been, unfortunately very exposed to the virus. But this can be used as a data collection opportunity to help our future selves understand the nature of the virus more. We need centralised health data bases with electronic records. 

With more pandemics predicted, this is said to be the start of the age of pandemics. We need to be better prepared for any disease emergency. Public health measures need to be taken on an emergency basis but a long term public health system needs to be set in place that can form the foundation for a better health care and disease prevention system in Pakistan.

References

1. Carfì A, Bernabei R, Landi F (August 2020). “Persistent Symptoms in Patients After Acute COVID-19”. JAMA. 324 (6): 603–605.

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