Patients infected in the first wave of the virus continue to suffer from diseases of the brain, lungs, heart, intestines, liver, skin and other body parts, according to a new review of the disease by the UK’s National Institute for Health .
Some of the symptoms of Long Covid, as the condition is often called, can be seriously debilitating, such as “brain fog” and extreme fatigue. Other consequences are milder, such as hair loss and the inability to taste or smell.
“A common theme is that symptoms appear in one physiological system and then subside just for symptoms to appear in another system,” the NIHR report said. The review aims to raise health workers’ awareness of the condition while stimulating further research as so little is known today about the prevalence or causes of long Covid.
A study in Italy found that 87 percent of people discharged from a hospital in Rome still had at least one symptom two months after the onset of Covid-19. At least 55 percent had three or more symptoms, including fatigue, difficulty breathing, and pain in the joints and chest.
Public Health England said last month that around 10 percent of “mild” Covid-19 cases that were not hospitalized reported symptoms that lasted longer than four weeks. A separate study by King’s College London using data from the Covid Symptom Study app with 4 million regular contributors found that between 10 and 20 percent of infections resulted in complications that lasted longer than a month.
If around 10 percent of people with confirmed Covid-19 have Long Covid, that means more than 3.8 million people worldwide and more than 65,000 patients in the UK. However, the NIHR researchers said it was too early to provide a reliable estimate of the prevalence.
“The overwhelming message is that this is not a linear condition,” said Elaine Maxwell, lead author of the NIHR report. “Lots [patients] suffer a roller coaster ride of symptoms that move around the body and that they do not recover from. ”
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According to Philip Pearson, a respiratory doctor at Northampton General Hospital and a member of the NIHR study group, there are some parallels between Covid-19 today and the start of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. “Since we have better understood the HIV infection, we have informed ourselves about the various possible clinical pictures,” he said. “The moment we’re trying to define our terms, it feels like HIV research was back then.”
Long Covid’s wide and fluctuating spectrum of symptoms suggested it was the result of several overlapping but distinct syndromes, including postviral fatigue and permanent organ damage, the NIHR report said.
“It feels like this coronavirus is behaving very differently from other viral infections like the flu,” added Dr. Pearson added
Despite all the uncertainties, the NIHR authors demanded that a working definition of Long Covid be agreed as soon as possible. “The lack of definition can affect the ability of patients to have their symptoms and experiences properly identified and treated by health services, which in turn can have further psychological implications, especially in out-of-hospital patients who have not been formally diagnosed.”
In response to growing concerns about Long Covid, the UK NHS allocated £ 10m last week to build a regional network of Long Covid clinics to assess patients’ physical, cognitive and psychological condition and, if necessary, seek specialist medical treatment to remit.
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