Reasons behind long-term effects of Covid still 'so unknown'

The long-term health effects of Covid-19 could trigger a “cycle of disease” and stress-relief systems, researchers said, adding that the reasons behind it are still “so unknown.”

Many coronavirus patients have reported debilitating symptoms months after initially becoming ill, with common “Long Covid” symptoms such as shortness of breath, chronic fatigue and brain fog.

Dr. Rachael Evans is a co-investigator of the government-funded £ 8.4 million PHOSP-Covid study at the University of Leicester, a UK-wide study of the long-term effects of Covid-19 on hospitalized patients.

“It’s just so unknown at this point … we’re still very much at the point where we’re learning what the aftereffects are,” Dr. Evans at the PA news agency.

“It has become very clear that the long-term effects can occur in people who were young and fit before and who may have had a fairly mild acute illness … enough to get them to the hospital, but maybe only a day or two.”

Jade Townsend, 22, was active and sociable before contracting the coronavirus, but since symptoms started in mid-March, she has been unable to work or walk more than 10 minutes from her home.

Five weeks after contracting the disease, Ms. Townsend was taken to hospital for a high fever and breathing difficulties, for which she stayed overnight on antibiotics for the early stages of pneumonia.

Six months later, Mrs. Townsend is still suffering from chronic fatigue, fever, nausea and a fluctuating fast heart rate.

Before Covid, she worked in a daycare center Monday through Friday, often waking up at 5:30 am, and staying out late on weekends to “do all the typical childhood stuff”.

“I really can’t imagine doing that now … I need almost more hours of sleep now than I am awake,” Ms. Townsend of Witney, Oxfordshire, told PA.

“It worries me at 22. I will be stuck with some of these symptoms and I will never be able to go back to my normal self.”

Mrs. Townsend had no pre-existing conditions other than a benign brain tumor that did not need to protect her and doctors have not identified it as a factor in her condition.

Dr. Evans, a respiratory consultant, said that in rare cases, pneumonia patients need up to three months to fully recover – but Covid patients still have symptoms six months later.

“I have been a qualified physician in the NHS for 23 years and I have not seen anything like this in respiratory medicine,” she said.

Dr. Evans said a long understanding of Covid will ease future pressures on healthcare and wider society as people are unable to return to work or fulfill their care responsibilities.

“As with any condition, if people have to deal with it on their own, there can often be a true cycle of illness in which the symptoms persist,” she added.

Dr. Evans said PHOSP-Covid will interview patients and assess their physical function and mental health, as well as take samples to analyze their genes and immune systems.

The study aims to recruit 10,000 people, who will initially follow them for a year, with permission to follow them out of their health record for an additional 25 years.

It hopes to provide an initial report of 1,000 participants’ medical records in the coming months, and 4,000 more will be assessed through interviews and sampling by the end of the year.

The ultimate goal of the research, funded by UK Research and Innovation and the National Institute for Health Research, is to find prevention and treatment methods.

“I also always want to say that there are plenty of people who make a full recovery because we don’t want to be too concerned either,” added Dr. Evans adds.

Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation set up the post-Covid Hub, an online help service – and Ms. Townsend recently visited a post-Covid clinic that she said was “really helpful.”

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