More studies needed on Long-Covid Syndrome

Awareness on patients experiencing new or ongoing Covid symptoms among Malaysians is generally low

by AZALEA AZUAR / Pic by AFP

CERTAIN patients who have suffered from Covid-19 have reportedly experienced new or ongoing symptoms which experts called Long-Covid Syndrome.

Awareness on Long-Covid Syndrome among Malaysians is generally low and medical experts are still trying to learn more about the syndrome to determine its long-term effects or its sequelae.

According to International Medical University head of division for medicine and infectious disease consultant Prof Dr James Koh Kwee Choy, the symptoms last more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis.

“Elderly people, young children, women, smokers, obese people and people who had severe illness with Covid-19 are more likely to have the syndrome, although it have also been reported in people who had little to no symptoms initially,” he told The Malaysian Reserve recently.

Several studies also revealed that 5% to 20% of Covid-19 patients will have symptoms that last more than four weeks.

Koh also explained that treatment for Long-Covid Syndrome depends on the individual patient.

“A growing list of symptoms have been identified in the syndrome including new or ongoing shortness of breath, fatigue, worsening of symptoms with exertion, cough, foggy concentration, chest pain, abdominal pain, persistent headache, palpitations, joint or muscle aches, tingling in fingers or toes, diarrhoea, problem sleeping, fever, light-headedness, rash, mood swings, loss of smell or taste and irregular menses,” he said.

Many of these symptoms do not require specific therapy other than plenty of rest and good nutrition.

However, some patients require intervention such as physiotherapy, occupational therapy, rehabilitation therapy, psychological support, psychiatric support, and respiratory and cardiac rehabilitation.

Apart from the lungs, Koh warns that Covid-19 can also damage the heart, kidneys and brain in some cases.

“In children, Covid-19 can result in multisystem inflammatory syndrome where organs and tissues can get badly inflamed. Patients with these conditions may need specific treatment,” he said.

Covid-19 vaccines not only prevent severe symptoms but also reduce the risk for the patients in contracting Long-Covid Syndrome.

“It is also difficult to determine if Long-Covid Syndrome is solely from Covid-19 or from other contributing factors such as long hospitalisation or intensive care unit stay, effect of long isolation on mental wellbeing or from concomitant illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure,” he said.

In fact, University Malaya professor in epidemiology from the Centre of Epidemiology and Evidence-Based Practice Dr Moy Foong Ming said they require more information from all the recovered Covid-19 patients who returned to the community.

She wants to know how long they contracted the symptoms, the common symptoms, the ratio between those who experienced Long-Covid symptoms and those who did not, whether they are able to resume physical functions, mental status and proportion of them returning to work.

“With over half a million Covid-19 patients who recovered in the country, even if a small percentage of them experience long-term debility, it could have health and economic consequences for the country,” Dr Moy said in a statement.

To raise the awareness of LongCovid Syndrome among recovered Covid-19 patients, her research team has initiated a short survey among the recovered Covid-19 patients.

The aim of the survey is for clinicians and researchers to understand more on post-Covid conditions.

At the same time, it would provide information to the stakeholders for the planning of health programmes.

“We hope all post-Covid patients, with or without any Long-Covid symptoms, will actively participate in the survey. We do not collect names or contact details for anonymity. All data will remain confidential and the findings will be presented collectively,” said Dr Moy.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) emergencies programme head of clinical care Dr Janet Diaz, the most common symptoms for the syndrome are shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction and fatigue.

However, she also said that there are more than 200 symptoms that have been reported among post-Covid patients.

Dr Diaz is also unsure how long the Long-Covid Syndrome can last as we are still about one and a half year into the pandemic.

“There’s still more studies that need to be done to follow patients who develop post Covid-19 conditions or Long-Covid and to see when their symptoms we hope will resolve,” she spoke during WHO’s “Science in 5”.

Dr Diaz also said that there is still more research needed on the impacts of vaccination and post-Covid-19 conditions.

“However, it is very clear that preventing Covid-19 is the best way to prevent the development of post-Covid-19 conditions or Long-Covid Syndrome,” she said.

Hence, she urged people to take the Covid-19 vaccines since they reduce the hospitalisation and mortality rate.

“At the same time, it also means that we are not out of the woods yet, despite vaccination.

“The people should also practice preventive measures such as wearing masks in public, social distancing and frequent handwashing as well as ensure proper ventilation especially in enclosed spaces” she said.