For most people who become infected with the new coronavirus, Covid-19 is a brief, mild illness. However, some experience symptoms including lasting fatigue, persistent pain, and shortness of breath for months.
For most people who become infected with the new coronavirus, COVID-19 is a brief, mild illness, but some experience symptoms that include lasting fatigue, persistent pain, and shortness of breath for months.
The condition, known as “chronic covid , “ is negatively impacting the lives of many people and stories of exhaustion, even after a short walk, have become quite common.
Although in the midst of the pandemic the focus has been on saving lives, there is growing awareness of the long-term consequences of the disease.
However, even the basic questions – such as why some develop the chronic variant or whether they will recover fully at some point – are fraught with uncertainty.
What is “chronic covid”?
There is no medical definition or list of symptoms common to all patients: two people with chronic covid-19 can have very different experiences.
However, the most common feature is crippling fatigue .
Fatigue is tiredness that does not disappear with rest or sleep.
Other symptoms include shortness of breath, a cough that does not go away, joint and muscle pain, hearing and vision problems, headaches, loss of smell and taste, as well as damage to the heart, lungs, and kidneys. and the intestine.
Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and difficulty thinking clearly have also been reported among those who suffer from it.
The condition can completely destroy people's quality of life.
“My fatigue was unlike anything I had ever experienced before,” said a person affected by it, Jade Gray.
Chronic covid-19 does not just mean a long recovery for someone who has spent a period in intensive care for the coronavirus.
Even people with relatively mild COVID-19 infections can suffer from serious and long-lasting health problems.
“We have no doubt that chronic covid-19 exists,” Professor David Strain, who has been treating patients with this profile for some time at the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome clinic at the University of Exeter, told the BBC.
How many people have it?
A study published in the journal Journal of the American Medical Association followed the cases of 143 patients with covid-19 treated in the largest hospital in Rome after they were discharged.
And it concluded that 87% suffered at least one symptom almost two months later and more than half still had fatigue.
For some patients who have been hospitalized, recovery can be very slow.
However, these studies focus only on a minority of those who contract COVID-19: those who end up needing hospital treatment.
Meanwhile, with the information collected with the Covid Symptom Tracker application, used by around four million people in the United Kingdom, it was discovered that 12% of people still had symptoms after 30 days.
And its most recent data, not yet published, suggests that 2% of all infected people (two out of 50) have chronic covid-19 symptoms after 90 days.
Do you have to have been seriously ill to develop chronic covid-19?
A study conducted in Dublin found that half of the people followed were still experiencing fatigue 10 weeks after being infected with coronavirus. A third were unable to return to work.
And doctors found no link between fatigue and the severity of the infection.
However, extreme exhaustion is just one symptom of chronic covid-19.
The coronavirus can cause pneumonia.
Professor Chris Brightling of the University of Leicester and principal investigator for the PHOSP-Covid project, which tracks people's recovery, believes that people who developed pneumonia may have more problems due to damage to their lungs.
How is the virus that causes chronic covid-19?
There are many ideas, but there are no definitive answers.
One possibility is that the virus has been shed from most of the body but remains in small pockets.
One possibility is that small pockets of the virus remain.
“If there is prolonged diarrhea, the virus is in the gut, if there is loss of smell, it is in the nerves, and that is what could be causing the problem,” says Professor Tim Spector of King's College London.
The coronavirus can also directly infect a wide variety of cells in the body and trigger an overactive immune response that causes damage throughout the body.
Another possibility is that the immune system does not return to normal after covid-19 and this is the cause of health problems.
The infection can also alter the function of the organs . This becomes obvious in the case of the lungs, when they heal. Long-term problems have been observed after infection with SARS or MERS, which are also caused by coronavirus.
Likewise, covid-19 can modify metabolism : there have been cases of people struggling to control their blood sugar levels after developing diabetes as a result of covid-19, and SARS caused changes in the way the body Process fats for at least 12 years.
There are also signs of changes in the structure of the brain, but they are still being investigated.
And COVID-19 also does strange things to the blood , including abnormal clotting, and damages the network of veins and arteries.
“The theory I'm working on is a premature aging of the small blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the tissues,” Professor Strain told the BBC.
And, as Strain points out, until we find out what is causing chronic covid-19 “it will be difficult to find the treatments .”
Is it something unusual?
Postviral cough and fatigue are well documented and common ; we've probably all had an infection that has taken us years to fully recover.
About one in 10 people with glandular fever has fatigue that lasts for months.
And there have even been suggestions that the flu, particularly after the 1918 pandemic, may be linked to Parkinson's-like symptoms.
“With covid-19 there seem to be more far-reaching symptoms and the number of people seems to be much higher,” says Professor Brightling however.
However, the emphasis is on the word “seems,” since until we have a real picture of how many people have been infected we won't know exactly how common these symptoms are, he notes.
“The unique way in which the virus attacks the host and the different ways in which it then alters the way cells behave seem to be giving people a more serious infection than other viruses and more persistent symptoms,” he told her. to the BBC.
Will people fully recover?
The number of people with chronic Covid appears to be decreasing over time.
However, the virus emerged only in late 2019 before going global earlier this year, so long-term data is high.
Based on data collected by researchers, people can experience a wide range of different symptoms.
“We have deliberately asked to follow people for 25 years. I certainly hope that only a very small number will have problems beyond a year, but I could be wrong,” said Professor Brightling.
There is also the concern that even if people appear to recover now, they could face lifetime risks .
People who have had CFS are more likely to have it again, and the concern is that future infections could cause more flare-ups.
“If Covid follows the same pattern for a long time, I would expect some recovery, but if it just takes another coronavirus infection to react, this could happen every winter, ” said Professor Strain.
And more problems are still possible in the future: The World Health Organization has warned that the widespread inflammation caused by the coronavirus could cause people to have heart problems at a much younger age.
What should I do if I think I have chronic Covid?
The UK's public health system, NHS, offers a number of tips for people affected by Covid-19, especially those who required hospital care.
He specifically recommends “three Ps” to conserve energy:
- Pause: control your pace so you don't try too hard and make sure you get enough rest
- Planning: Plan the days so that the most strenuous activities are spread throughout the week.
- Prioritization: think about what needs to be done and what can be postponed.
He also advises talking to the hospital or GP if one is not recovering as quickly as one might expect.
But both in the UK and in other parts of the world, some have expressed concern that there is not enough support for people with chronic Covid.