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COVID-19 Explained: What is ‘Long COVID’?

As more research and data come forward about long COVID, policy-makers and health systems around the world are being warned to brace themselves for the long-term implications of lasting symptoms

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COVID-19 Explained: What is ‘Long COVID’?

New Delhi: According to the World Health Organization, around a quarter of people who have had COVID-19, experience certain symptoms that continue for at least a month, but one in 10 is still unwell after 12 weeks which has been described by the patient groups as “Long COVID”. The organisation says that there is no internationally agreed definition of post COVID condition as of yet.

A recent study in England reports that more than 20 lakh adults in England, accounting for approximately 3.5 per cent of the population, may have experienced long COVID. The Imperial College London-led REACT-2 study surveyed more than half a million people in the country and found one in 20 adults reporting persistent COVID-19 symptoms for 12 weeks or more.

Also Read: Over 80 Per Cent Of Sampled Population In Ahmedabad Has COVID-19 Antibodies: Sero-Survey

As more research and data come forward about long COVID, policy-makers and health systems around the world are being warned to brace themselves for the long-term implications of lasting symptoms. WHO states,

Long COVID has a serious impact on people’s ability to go back to work or have a social life. It affects their mental health and may have significant economic consequences for them, their families, and society. Policymakers need to take account of the complexity of Long COVID and how what is known about it is evolving rapidly.

Expert’s Take On Long COVID

Dr Janet Diaz, Head of Clinical Care in WHO Emergencies Programme, explains that the patients who get severely ill with COVID-19, those that end up in the hospital and those who go to intensive care, could develop post-intensive care syndrome. She said,

This syndrome has been described well before COVID in patients who’ve been critically ill. And so, we are seeing those types of prolonged symptoms and functional limitations in patients who’ve been critically ill with COVID-19. This includes people who have a persistent cough, who have persistent shortness of breath, perhaps some physical limitations due to being critically ill and in bed for a long time, as well as, potentially cognitive issues as well, after being so sick. And so, we are concerned about that type of post-intensive care syndrome, that we will see with patients after acute COVID-19 hospitalisation.

Furthermore, Dr Diaz said that there are also smaller reports of patients who were not hospitalised due to COVID as their infection was mild, but are still facing the symptoms of ‘Long COVID’. She said,

There are reports that those patients have continued to have some protracted symptoms, such as coughing, such as some shortness of breath, such as some trouble with breathing, some extensive symptoms of fatigue. So, there is a concern there that needs to be much better understood about for those patients that were mild and potentially without risk factors.

Also Read: Low Vaccination, High R-Rate, Is India Inching Towards The Third Wave? Experts Speak

While some reports and medical experts say that the symptoms of long covid may last for 1-3 months, Dr Diaz says that the exact duration of these timings is not known as of yet.

Again, we can extrapolate from when I mentioned about the hospitalised patients, those that were severely ill or critically ill, spent time in intensive care. We know from studies in non-COVID patients, that those critically ill patients may have symptoms to up to six months or even one year after that hospitalisation, that post-intensive care syndrome. So, that can be quite prolonged. However, for COVID patients, we really don’t have enough information to say how long those symptoms may persist after the acute illness.

Talking about the proportion of COVID patients who get these symptoms after recovery, Dr Diaz explains,

We can’t generalise the entire population with COVID, however, if we look at the post-intensive care syndrome from patients who’ve been critically ill with other diseases, and if we indirectly apply that to patients who have had COVID-19 and been very sick in the hospital, it could be up to 50 per cent of them. These recovered patients may have some sort of functional limitation. So even though we don’t know the total proportion, what is concerning is the fact that a very high number of people have been infected with COVID-19, and among them, the number of those experiencing long-COVID may be relatively large.

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

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