As if the crises precipitated by the Covid-19 pandemic are not enough, the world now also needs to deal with ‘long Covid’ or ‘post-Covid syndrome.’ Publishing a World Health Organisation (WHO)-led guidance report on the condition, European health experts said thousands of Covid-19 patients continue to suffer serious, debilitating and lingering symptoms many months after their initial bout of infection, with major social, health and economic consequences. They estimate that around one in 10 Covid-19 patients are still unwell 12 weeks after their acute infection, and many suffer symptoms for far longer. “This is a condition that can be extremely debilitating. Those suffering from it describe a varying combination of overlapping symptoms... (including) chest and muscle pain, fatigue, shortness of breath ... brain fog (and) many others,” said Martin McKee, a professor at the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies who led the report.
Hans Kluge, the WHO’s European regional director, said long-Covid could have “severe social, economic, health and occupational consequences”. “The burden is real and it is significant,” he said while urging health authorities to listen to patients’ concerns, take them seriously, and establish services to help them. Growing evidence from around the world points to many thousands of people experiencing long-Covid. The condition appears not to be linked to whether a patient had a severe or mild infection.
In Qatar, HE the Minister of Public Health Dr Hanan Mohamed al-Kuwari last week visited the Post-Covid Inpatient Unit established in the Qatar Rehabilitation Institute to offer a holistic programme to patients with more severe Covid-19 symptoms to help in their recovery. She met two patients currently receiving care following episodes of severe Covid-19. In each case the prolonged illness and severity of symptoms has led to the patients experiencing reduced lung capacity and muscle atrophy resulting in decreased endurance. The patients have been through months of hospitalisation, including periods in intensive care on a ventilator, and now require extensive rehabilitation to build their strength and regain mobility function. Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health has cautioned that though most people recover quickly from Covid-19, anyone can experience the symptoms of long-Covid. Due to their increased vulnerability and often weakened immune systems, the elderly are more susceptible to long-term complications due to Covid-19. The best from of prevention is to follow all steps to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19: wear a mask, maintain physical distance, avoid large gatherings, and regular hand washing.
An initial report by Britain’s National Institute for Health Research last year suggested long-Covid may be not one condition, but multiple syndromes causing a rollercoaster of symptoms affecting the body and mind. Kluge noted that as with any new disease, much remains unknown about Covid-19. “We need to listen and ... understand. The sufferers of post-Covid conditions need to be heard if we are to understand the long-term consequences and recovery from Covid-19,” he said. “This is a clear priority for WHO (and) it should be for every health authority.”
In the US, the National Institutes of Health is launching research to understand the causes and consequences of the lingering brain fog, breathing problems and malaise reported by many recovering Covid-19 patients. White House Chief Medical Advisor Dr Anthony Fauci said some studies have shown up to 30% of patients report symptoms that can endure for months, complicating their return to normal routines and work, and plunging many recovering patients into depression. Many patients who initially experienced milder Covid-19 symptoms are now showing up at the doctor’s office months later with debilitating problems. They’re being called “long-haulers.” Fauci says a critical issue is whether Covid-19 predisposes some patients to other medical problems later, such as conditions affecting the heart or brain. The bottom line is that wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing – even after receiving a vaccine – is going to be the norm for a long time to come.
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