Your Covid-19 questions answered

What are the long-term effects of Covid-19?

21 July 2021 - 07:00
Researchers are studying hospital admissions to try understand the pattern of sickness after getting Covid-19. Stock photo.
Researchers are studying hospital admissions to try understand the pattern of sickness after getting Covid-19. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/HXDBZXY

Studies are ongoing to understand “long Covid-19,” but experts know a little about the long-term effects of the virus.

While most people with Covid-19 recover in two to three weeks, some can experience symptoms for months. According to the Department of Health, “long-Covid-19 denotes those with symptoms lasting for more than 28 days or developing after 28 days”.

It outlined several symptoms that may be as a result of “long Covid-19”, including fatigue, (98%), myalgias (64%), respiratory tract symptoms (71%), persistent cough (69%), sore throat (67%) and fever (63%).

Patients can also develop chest pains, memory issues, sleep disturbances, headaches, nausea, depression, anxiety and PTSD.

“Most symptoms of long Covid-19 were reported for the first time 2-4 weeks after Covid-19 symptoms started,” says the department.

Dr Gareth Kantor told TimesLIVE that between 10% to 30% of those reported to have Covid-19 develop long-term effects of the virus.

“Patients can have a wide variety of symptoms from chest and joint pains to breathing problems, ‘brain fog’ and fatigue. Up to 200 symptoms have been described, and are being studied. It seems to be more prevalent in women than men, and they seem to have some similarities to other syndromes that might also be caused by viruses like chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Researchers are studying local medical aid claims to try understand the pattern of sickness after getting Covid-19.

“We see whether people who have Covid-19 use more healthcare after contracting the virus than before, as an indicator of what impact Covid-19 is having long term and what symptoms they are reporting.

“We are seeing a signal of more mental health issues but it is hard to say whether that comes from the general stress of getting the virus and potentially exposing loved ones to the virus, or whether it is a biological effect post the virus.”

Specialist physician and pulmonologist Dr Rubeshan Perumal, who treats patients at Groote Schuur Hospital Post-Covid-19 Lung Disease Clinic, said doctors estimate more than half a million people have suffered “long Covid-19” over the past year.

“Breathlessness, fatigue and effort limitation are often multifactorial and may take their origin in the brain, heart, lungs, muscles — and often with a complex interaction between these systems. There are also tremendous effects of Covid-19 on a person’s social, economic, emotional, and psychological wellbeing.

“The severity of symptoms varies from mild chest discomfort to incapacitating breathlessness. Some patients report tiredness while others experience a severe form of fatigue that can best be described as a lead blanket, sinking these patients into a deep state of listlessness. Other common sequelae such as hair loss and skin rashes may not be serious from a medical perspective but can be extremely distressing to patients,” Perumal said.


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