Long Covid-19 becoming a new health challenge, say UAE doctors

Patients can suffer from physical as well as mental symptoms


Ashwani Kumar

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Published: Sat 6 Aug 2022, 5:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 6 Aug 2022, 10:31 PM

In the third year of the pandemic, humankind has adapted to a life with Covid-19, to a culture of maintaining a safe distance and wearing masks in closed and even open spaces. However, the prolonged effects of Covid-19 are disrupting the lives of some people in the new normal world too.

Frontline doctors in the UAE noted that long-term effects of contracting coronavirus disease are indeed becoming a new threat with some Covid-19 survivors having symptoms ranging from six months to more than a year.

Dr Rajesh Kumar Gupta, internal medicine specialist, Burjeel Specialty Hospital, Sharjah, noted that globally up to 20 per cent of patients have lingering health issues for months even though most test Covid-19 negative.

"You see, a lot has been talked and written about post-Covid-19 conditions or what is popularly termed as long Covid-19. But we cannot essentially run in parallel with the situation of last year and now. Currently, the UAE is a 100 per cent vaccinated country of its targeted group, and most people have got booster doses."

"Though the hospitalisation rate has been decreasing, some of the Covid-19 recovered patients are experiencing long-term issues. On an average, 15 per cent of cases suffer with prolonged effects and another some becoming critical in nature."

Dr Gupta stressed that post-Covid-19 conditions are becoming a global challenge for the healthcare system too.

"Yes, as we strive to emerge from the pandemic, long haulers could become the next serious health crisis according to the projections. Even if we have 1 out of 10 positive cases developing symptoms for months or more than a year, this number could continue to head north."

"Among the most common long-haul symptoms are shortness of breath, chest pain, dry cough and fatigue, muscle weakness," Dr Gupta underlined.

A recent study published in The Lancet reported one in eight infected people having at least one core symptom of long Covid-19.

Prolonged respiratory symptoms

Dr Aparna Namboothiri, specialist pulmonologist, Ahalia Hospital, Abu Dhabi City, noted that persistent symptoms and poor health after Covid-19 have been found to have no association with complications or initial disease severity.

"The most interesting thing about long Covid-19 is that it does not seem to have a relation with initial disease severity. In our experience, patients who had no symptoms during the illness develop new symptoms like cough, chest pain or breathing difficulty, after a period of apparent well-being."

Dr Aparna pointed out that most long Covid-19 cases have prolonged respiratory symptoms.

"Studies have also shown that patients present with new onset asthma-like illness after Covid-19. This could be due to post viral bronchial hyperresponsiveness, which is also seen in other respiratory viral illnesses. Advanced age, smoking and pre-existing lung conditions are some of the risk factors for persistent symptoms after Covid-19."

Focus on mental health too

Dr Shaju George, psychiatrist at Medeor Hospital, Dubai, said that several patients have been visiting with post-Covid-19 symptoms for more than a year, and now the focus should also be on addressing their mental health issues.

"The long-term effects of the pandemic can last for years. Even for a person who hasn't tested positive for Covid-19 in the last three years still faces some form of pandemic-related stress. And here we are talking about long Covid-19 cases; the impact on their mental health cannot be accessed now. But with certainty, we can say that post-Covid-19 conditions on adults and children will become a challenge."

Dr George highlighted that globally the number of people reporting psychological issues and symptoms of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress is on the rise.

"Even if one person in a family has prolonged Covid-19 symptoms, it not only hinders his or her happiness and tranquillity but affects the entire house. The impact of long Covid-19 on the mental health of an affected person can also have an effect on others. The mental health of long haulers should be keenly discussed and included in future research works too," Dr George added.


Vaccinated less likely to be affected

Dr Aparna noted that fully vaccinated people are less likely to get long Covid-19 issues.

"The silver lining is that there is emerging evidence, which shows that long Covid-19 occurrence is less among fully vaccinated individuals. Self-care should also be given importance like balanced nutrition, hydration, an active lifestyle and adequate sleep. It is important to follow-up patients at about 3 months and sometimes beyond that to look for post-Covid-19 complications too."

Dr Gupta added: "The UAE has the best medical facilities, and the healthcare system can deal with any situation. But long Covid-19 has the potential to become the next big health challenge globally."

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