It has been six months since the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) started to sweep the globe and healthcare experts and scientists are just beginning to get an idea of a wide range of health problems it causes, especially in the long run. While doctors say they have learned enough about the highly contagious virus to save more lives, some of the health problems left behind by Covid-19 may have lasting effects on patients and health systems for years to come. From what was initially thought to be only a respiratory virus, it is now being learnt that Covid-19 can attack the pancreas, heart, liver, brain, kidney and other organs, as explained by Dr Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California, US.
It has also been revealed that patients can experience blood clotting disorders leading to strokes, and extreme inflammation that attacks multiple organ systems. The virus can also cause neurological complications that range from headache, dizziness and loss of taste or smell to seizures and confusion. The most worrying fact is that recovery can be slow, incomplete and costly, with a huge impact on quality of life.
Dr Sadiya Khan, a cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, believes there will be a huge healthcare expenditure and burden for some individuals who have survived Covid-19. Patients who were in the intensive care unit or on a ventilator for weeks will need to spend extensive time in rehab to regain mobility and strength.
While much of the focus has been on the minority of patients who experience severe disease, doctors increasingly are looking to the needs of patients who were not sick enough to require hospitalisation, but are still suffering months after first becoming infected. Studies are just getting underway to understand the long-term effects of infection. While coronavirus symptoms typically resolve in two or three weeks, an estimated one in 10 experience prolonged symptoms, Dr Helen Salisbury of the University of Oxford wrote in the British Medical Journal the other day. Salisbury said many of her patients have normal chest X-rays and no sign of inflammation, but they are still not back to normal.
Writing in the Annals of Neurology, Dr Igor Koralnik, chief of neuro-infectious diseases at Northwestern Medicine, who reviewed current scientific literature, said about half of patients hospitalised with Covid-19 had neurological complications, such as dizziness, decreased alertness, difficulty concentrating, disorders of smell and taste, seizures, strokes, weakness and muscle pain. It has to be studied if these neurological problems are temporary or permanent.
Meanwhile, nearly 30 doctors around the world, from New Orleans to London to the Middle East, told Reuters they feel more prepared should cases surge again in the fall. Despite a steady rise in Covid-19 cases, driven to some extent by wider testing, the daily death toll from the disease is falling in some countries, including the US. Doctors say they are more confident in caring for patients than they were in the chaotic first weeks of the pandemic, when they operated on nothing but blind instinct.
In June, an average of 4,599 people a day died from Covid-19 worldwide, down from 6,375 a day in April, according to Reuters data. To be sure, the world is far from safe from a virus that continues to rage. It is expected to reach two grim milestones in the next several days: 10mn confirmed global infections and 500,000 deaths. The battle continues as scientists are at least months away from a working vaccine.
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