Most people who get Covid-19 experience mild, short-lived symptoms and many may not show any symptoms at all. Most do not die. For a rising number of patients, however, symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath and joint pain can persist for months.
Called ‘long Covid’, Dr Sana Mohammed, a Covid-19 consultant at the Couva Hospital and Training Facility, explained that the condition occurs in people who have had Covid-19 and continue to have signs of the disease for more than four weeks that are not explained by another medical condition.
Speaking at the Ministry of Health’s virtual media conference, Mohammed said that people with long Covid reported a wide range of symptoms that could affect multiple bodily systems. The most common symptoms were fatigue, profound fatigue and shortness of breath.
Other symptoms include joint pain, a persistent cough, chest pain, muscle pain, headache, intermittent fever, fast-beating or pounding heart (palpitations), skin rashes, nausea, stomach pain, loss of smell or taste and sore throat.
Mohammed also said that long Covid could also affect mental health, as symptoms like depression, anxiety and problems concentrating could also occur.
These symptoms could have a debilitating effect on people’s lives, she said.
“Some patients may be unable to work and have much difficulty returning to work following infection with COVID-19. Some of our patients have difficulty returning to their normal day-to-day function following infection.”
Many patients described the condition as ‘waxing and waning’, Mohammed said, with symptoms often going away and then reappearing.
In a not-yet peer-reviewed study looking at more than 4,000 Covid-19 cases, researchers found that 13.3% had symptoms lasting more than 28 days, 4.5% lasting more than eight weeks and 2.3% lasting more than 12 weeks.
Researchers also said that experiencing more than five symptoms during the first week of illness was associated with Long-Covid. They also said that patients with long Covid were more likely to have been hospitalised.
In a study in Ireland, however, researchers there found that the persistent fatigue associated with long Covid did not depend on the severity of the initial infection.
Mohammed said that long Covid was not contagious, but that it could be difficult to differentiate between long Covid and a new Covid-19 infection since some symptoms overlap.
“The best advice for those of us who have had Covid-19 before and are experiencing ongoing symptoms or new symptoms is to seek medical attention,” she said. “Some of these patients will require re-testing for clarification of symptoms.”
She added: “It is always important that those patients who have recovered from Covid-19 to continue to adhere to the public health guidelines, therefore decreasing their chance of becoming re-infected with Covid-19.”
Mohammed said that there were two specialist clinics, called executive wellness centres, at the Arima and Couva hospitals set up for people suffering from long Covid.
Because of the wide range of symptoms associated with long Covid, Mohammed predicted a large number of patients would experience longterm health consequences of Covid-19.
“This will have a significant impact on our healthcare systems for years to come,” she said.
The health ministry reported 13 new Covid-19 cases today, bringing the total confirmed infections since March 2020 to 7,509. There are now 298 active cases.
Thirty-seven patients are in hospital, with five in step-down facilities. The state quarantine facilities are housing 391 people, while 243 people are in home self-isolation.