Many will never fully recover from COVID-19

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COVID-19 is gradually increasing its death toll across India, however, the impacts of the condition may be more long-lasting than first anticipated. The disease is increasingly showing further symptoms in individuals long after they have recovered from the initial infection.

COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak concept. Novel coronavirus disease called 2019-nCoV handwriting on blue paper. protective mask and surgical gloves on blue background Image credit: Epov / 123rf
Image credit: Epov / 123rf

After the initial infection period, many people recover even from severe states requiring prolonged stays in intensive care units. Repeat testing of recovered individuals has confirmed that the virus is no longer present in their system. However, some symptoms continue to persist.

India has touted its high recovery rate as reason for limited concern over the COVID-19 pandemic. Some claim that India’s comparatively younger population to other countries will allow the development of herd immunity without a considerable death toll. This information on prolonged illness following infection could blow these theories out of the water – and highlight a far more drawn out problem.

In the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Lancet commentary noted that in patients from the Chinese city of Wuhan — the pandemic’s epicentre — chest CT scans showed bilateral ground glass opacities following recovery from the virus. Ground glass opacities refers to unspecified murky areas within CT scans of the lungs, often corresponding to fluid secretion or damaged tissue. While this is not unexpected, a concerning prospect is that these issues are persistent even after viral remission.

Interviews published on Scroll.in with Dr S. Chatterjee, senior consultant of internal medicine at Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, and Dr Jeenam Shah, consultant chest physician and interventional pulmonologist at Saifee, Wockhardt and Bhatia Hospitals in Mumbai, indicate the initial concerns over COVID-19 in China are indeed occurring in India. Chatterjee said

“The most common thing that they [patients] are facing – the smallest problem – is that they continue to have a low-grade fever for a much longer time than we expected. They would have fever for about four to five weeks, and without any other cause being found…but [one of] the major things that I have seen is the heart being affected. I have seen patients developing myocarditis [inflammation of the heart tissue]. The degree could vary from mild to moderate, and it is the right side of the heart that is getting involved more than the left. Although none of the patients have become very serious with myocarditis, it is a feature we are seeing in follow-up patients.”

These concerns highlight that, in addition to prolonged lung damage, there lies the potential to cause damage across the body, seemingly more commonly causing issues in the heart. In a nation that attributed 28.1 percent of mortalities to heart disease in 2016, any new potential risk factors for the condition — particularly ones that are a considerable cause of mortality in their own right — are a major concern. India may not just face the rising tide of COVID-19, but its plausibly severe aftermath.