The Covid peak has come to an end, and a second wave doesn’t seem imminent. Amongst the 10.6 million Covid cases in India, there have been a huge number of recoveries. Most of the Indian Covid patients recovered completely, tested negative for Covid subsequently and produced a significant number of antibodies against the virus. But these people can count themselves amongst the lucky bunch. Some Covid victims don’t have such an easy ride back to normalcy. These patients, with a history of Covid- 19 pneumonia, who have received adequate treatment, complain of non-specific symptoms, for more than 12 weeks after Covid-19 was first detected.
This phenomenon has been termed as “Long Covid”. Medically, doctors arrive at this diagnosis only when they have ruled out every other alternative diagnosis. Over these 10 months of the pandemic, my team has treated over 3,000 patients with minimal mortality rate of 0.6%, and hence, I have seen a substantial number of patients who have come to me with Long Covid. The implications of Long Covid are numerous. Firstly, from a medical standpoint, patients present to the hospital with complaints of prolonged loss of sense of taste and smell, excessive fatigue, sleep disturbances, muscular and joint pains, skin rashes, headache, psychological symptoms of anxiety and depression, cognitive impairment aka brain fog.
As one can clearly see, independently, these symptoms point to a variety of diagnoses from different systems of the human body. Hence, the treating doctor must have a high degree of clinical suspicion when it comes to diagnosing Long Covid. I have noticed that those with autoimmune conditions like urticaria and psoriasis have a greater risk of suffering from this protracted form of Covid. Secondly, Long Covid also places tremendous amounts of stress on the family.
The financial burden from the prolonged stay in hospital, along with the persistent complaints from the patient takes a toll on the mental health of the family. In my experience, adequate counselling of the family on the various aspects of Long Covid, combined with explaining the course of treatment goes a long way in assuaging their fears and giving the patient a positive environment for recovery.
Lastly, I will discuss the impact Long Covid has on a patient’s daily life. Battling symptoms like fatigue, sleep disturbances and joint pains can have a negative effect on a person’s job performance, especially now that most companies require their employees to work in offices again. Hunting for suitable gainful employment can become a challenge. Even for those working from home, performing household chores along with office work becomes next to impossible.
Psychologically, this inability to help out the family or even just take care of themselves can lead to feelings of low self-worth and helplessness which can manifest into depression and anxiety. Another thing to keep in mind is that these patients cannot receive the Covid vaccine until they have completely recovered from the illness and have no symptoms. Fortunately, every cloud has a silver lining. Long Covid, whilst sounding a dreary prospect, is treatable. It required a multidisciplinary approach, involving specialists from various fields to tackle the multiple issues.
Usually, the treatment protocol includes the following modalities: diet modification, physical rehabilitation, sleep therapy, pain management, psychological therapy. Despite Long Covid being treatable, it would be my heartfelt recommendation to readers to follow the age old adage: Prevention is better than cure. I urge each and every single one of you to wear a mask, practice social distancing and to get vaccinated once it becomes available to the general public. We are in this together and we will get through this together.
The author is HOD and Consultant-Pulmonology, Lung Transplant Physician, Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru