NEW DELHI: Biswadeep Das* is a 42-year-old software developer based in Noida who had defeated COVID-19 by a whisker two-and-a-half months back after spending nearly 35 days in a Delhi hospital.
Hypertension and diabetes patient, Das quickly developed acute respiratory disease syndrome after testing positive and needed ventilator support for 10 days before he started breathing on his own.
“My family members had given up hope as very few who end up on ventilator come back but I did get better,” Das said.
“I and my family members were elated when I tested negative for SARS CoV 2 after more than a month in the hospital and the doctors said I could go home and recuperate," he added.
But the initial euphoria Das and his family felt, was short-lived. He turned out to be what doctors across the world are now calling long-haulers as the disease left a significant part of his lungs badly damaged, resulting in a serious complication called lung fibrosis.
Once at home, Das still needed oxygen support for nearly 40 days and even now he cannot talk or walk for a few minutes without gasping for breath.
There is a cloud over whether he can resume work in the near future. On top of it, he is also struggling with psychological issues such as anxiety and panic attacks.
Doctors say nearly 10 per cent of all COVID-19 patients who had moderate to serious disease, mostly those requiring ICU care, will have post-COVID complications, whose main symptoms are breathlessness, fatigue and in some cases, damage to vital organs.
‘People having severe disease suffer longer’
India has nearly 35 lakh confirmed cases so far. If 10 per cent of these patients needed ventilator support out of which 5-10 per cent developed post-recovery complications, then the number of such patients will be around 20,000-25,000.
In July, an Italian study in the Journal of the American Medical Association involving 143 recovered patients two months after the onset of the first symptom, found over 85 per cent had at least one symptom.
The most commonly reported symptoms were fatigue and dyspnea (shortness of breath).
“It’s a challenge to help and manage such patients,” said Hyderabad-based intensivist Srinivas Samavedam who has been treating coronavirus patients since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Just like there is a national clinical management protocol for managing COVID-19 patients, there should also be a national action plan and guidelines to help doctors manage such long-haulers,” he said.
Shikha Panwar, a critical care specialist in Faridabad, pointed out that mostly those who get the severe disease or cytokine storm but recover, are also those who suffer for a long time.
“And it gets more complicated for people above 50,” she said. “Many of them won’t be in a condition to go back to work for probably a year or longer or be disabled for life.”
Seeing the seriousness of the situation, the Centre last month started an exercise to follow up and document clinical details of cured COVID-19 patients to assess how many of them have long term complications and what is the degree of these consequences.
*Name changed to protect identity.