A significant number of people infected with the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, experience long-term symptoms and take many weeks or months to fully recover, the World Health Organization said at a news conference today.
“I have heard first-hand people who are facing the medium to long-term effects of COVID-19 infection,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gebreesus. “What’s really disturbing is the wide range of symptoms that fluctuate over time, often overlap, and can affect any system in the body.”
Although COVID-19 long carriers have long been reported, the WHO is working to raise awareness of the problem today. It is not yet clear what proportion of infected people have medium- and long-term health problems, Tedros said. However, it is clear that “this is not just a virus that kills people.” And with more than 45 million cases worldwide – and their number – even a small percentage will mean that a large number of people will have long-term disabilities.
It is also clear that long-term symptoms and complications affect a wide range of patients with COVID-19. Long-term effects occur in people with mild illness as well as severe illness. Young adults, the elderly, women, men, even children report that they fight the disease for a long time.
In today’s press conference, Tedros invited three guests to share their experience with the long-term COVID-19. It begins with Professor Paul Garner, an epidemiologist on infectious diseases at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Garner contracted COVID-19 in March. “I was in good shape and I assumed that this COVID disease – I will be able to remove it from my shoulder,” he said. But that was not the case.
Garner said he had suffered from extreme fatigue, sweating, headaches and mood swings for four months. He was also unable to move. This was followed by three months of complete exhaustion and retreat in his recovery whenever he went too far. He said things had only improved in the last two weeks.
“I never thought I would have seven months of my life destroyed by this virus. It’s just gone. It evaporated, “he said.
As an epidemiologist, he noted that long-term COVID appears to have a huge set of symptoms. “I had a specific shape,” he said. Other victims, the data show, develop heart damage, persistent shortness of breath, thinking problems and other evidence of organ damage.
“Post-viral syndromes are not new,” he added. “But what we have here is just a huge scale of people who are suddenly badly injured.”
Tedros then met Martha Sibanda, a nurse in Johannesburg, South Africa, who was infected in June. Her symptoms start with shortness of breath, cough and fatigue, and things quickly escalate to the point that she needs oxygen. She was initially hospitalized, but then moved to intensive care, where she spent eight days. Although she was then able to return to the hospital ward, she still had problems with oxygen withdrawal. She remained in the hospital for another 26 days, all on oxygen. Now, in her fourth month, she is still struggling to breathe and has failed to return to work. Her goal is to return to work by the end of the month, five months after the illness.
Finally, Tedros invited Lit Hishme, a previously strong 26-year-old software engineer from the United Kingdom. Lit became infected in March and first appeared with flu-like symptoms. After weeks of working with his illness at home, he collapsed while trying to get groceries. Although doctors at the hospital told him he had end-stage pneumonia, he had not yet recovered and could not return to work.
“It’s been almost eight months and I’m still suffering from fatigue, brain fog, chest pain, palpitations, digestive problems, short-term memory loss,” he said. “There is no system in my body that has not been affected. If you had asked me eight months ago if I thought this would happen if I had caught COVID, I would have said no, no, not at all. ”
This threat “really reinforces what a dangerous COVID-19 virus is,” Tedros added. “It also reinforces to me how morally unscrupulous and impossible the so-called ‘natural herd immunity’ strategy is. This would not only lead to millions more deaths, but would also lead to a significant number of people facing a long road to full recovery. “