An ongoing study by unisanté in Lausanne has found around a third of mild Covid-19 cases in Switzerland were still suffering symptoms two months after infection, a condition known as Long Covid.
All of the patients included in the Swiss study had mild symptoms and were not admitted to hospital. Their average age was 40.
Persistent systems include fatigue, shortness of breath, memory loss, brain fog, hair loss, impaired smell and muscle pain.
One person interviewed by RTS, a 34 year old woman, complained of persistent shortness of breath. Climbing stairs or talking on the phone left her breathless. She caught the virus in March and was never admitted to hospital. But she has not felt well since.
The Swiss study mirrors studies in other countries. Half of people in a study in Dublin suffered from fatigue 10 weeks after being infected and a third were physically unable to return to work. And doctors found no link between the severity of the infection and persistent symptoms.
The virus can enter the cells of different organs, said Peter Vollenweider, head of internal medicine at Lausanne’s CHUV hospital. Varied symptoms occur in severe cases. There is no reason why this should be different in chronic cases, he said.
It is not clear why symptoms persist or how long they might last. Theories range from lingering pockets of virus in the body, immune systems refusing to return to normal, to premature ageing of the small blood vessels that deliver oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. Some experts are concerned that Covid-19 might trigger Parkinson’s disease. There is some evidence to suggest that the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918 triggered an increase in Parkinson’s disease.
However, too little is known for the time being to form any definitive conclusions on what causes Long Covid. More time and research is required.
The British Medical Association did a survey of doctors with Covid-19. Just under 30 per cent said they’d been left with physical fatigue, generalised shortness of breath, and about 18 per cent reported brain fog and memory loss and generalised difficulty in concentrating. David Strain, co-chair of the BMA medical academic staff committee, said “all of the people I’ve seen with this [Long Covid] have been young – they’ve been under 45. That’s something that really needs to be hammered home to the 20-somethings and 30-somethings that are still going out for nights on the town because they think that even if they do get it, they’re not going to be really affected – because they are the people that are getting this Long Covid syndrome”.
An article in Nature looks at what is known about Long Covid and a BBC radio programme discusses the science behind Long Covid. In this programme Dr Nisreen Alwan, an Associate Professor in Public Health for Medicine at the University of Southampton, thinks we need to add a statistic on long term Covid-19 health problems to the current tallies of recorded cases and deaths. One way to do this would be to add an accurate measure of recoveries, which excludes Long Covid cases, to direct more focus to the longer term burden of the disease.