Though it is estimated that millions of people worldwide suffer from long-term COVID, little is still understood about the condition, despite the fact that recent research has offered various possible causes.
According to estimates, 10 to 20% of persons who get coronavirus continue to experience symptoms months after getting better from the illness. These symptoms most frequently include weariness, shortness of breath, and brain fog, which is a loss of mental clarity.
Nearly 145 million individuals globally, according to the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), experienced at least one of these symptoms in 2020 and 2021.
According to IHME modelling for the World Health Organization (WHO), which was published earlier this month, 17 million persons in Europe alone had a long-lasting Covid symptom for at least three months after infection at that time.
Hans Kluge, the WHO’s director for Europe, pleaded with the globe to move swiftly to gather more information about the illness, saying that these millions “cannot continue to suffer in silence.”
While scientists have been working to catch up, things have been made difficult by the symptoms’ great variety and inconsistent nature.
According to a research by University College London, the lengthy Covid has thus far been linked to more than 200 distinct symptoms.
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– ‘Fatigue in the background’ –
According to Olivier Robineau, coordinator for Long Covid at France’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Research Agency, the condition has certain variable traits but no particularly distinct symptoms.
He told AFP that although symptoms “seem to develop worse after mental or physical activity — then become less common with time,” fatigue “stays in the background.”
One thing we do know, according to the IHME, is that those with more severe first episodes, including those necessitating hospitalisation, are more likely to acquire extended Covid.
Researchers have investigated a number of hints as to what may be the precise cause of the disease.
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According to a study that was published in September in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, patients were still carrying Covid’s iconic spike protein, which is the virus’s entry point into cells, a full year after infection.
According to the researchers, this shows that viral reservoirs might linger in some individuals and perhaps trigger inflammation that could result in chronic Covid-like symptoms.
If they are correct, a test to detect the spike might be created, possibly achieving one of the lofty and elusive objectives of extensive Covid research – a precise method to diagnose the illness.
However, subsequent studies have not supported their conclusions, and a number of additional theories have been put up.
– “Data not yet very solid” –
A leading theory is that diffuse axonal injury from drastic Covid cases triggers perpetual immune system dysfunction.
Another theory contends that the initial infection results in minute blood clots that may be related to protracted Covid symptoms.
Robineau noted that “the data for each of these hypotheses is not yet particularly strong.”
He said, “We will probably uncover no one factor to explain Covid for a long time.”
“The reasons might not all be present. They could be connected to one another, follow one another, or be distinct from one another in different people.
A way to treat COVID condition also remains elusive
The Hotel-Dieu facility in Paris has been providing lengthy Covid patients with a half-day therapy programme for the past year.
Brigitte Ranque, who oversees the process known as CASPER, explained that you “see an infectious disease specialist, a psychiatrist, and finally a doctor who specialises in sports rehabilitation.”
The bulk of the symptoms, according to the team’s experience, are related to functional somatic disorders, she added. These are a collection of chronic illnesses with no recognised origin, including fibromyalgia and chronic tiredness.
Long-term Covid is treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, a psychiatric strategy frequently employed for similar diseases, coupled with closely supervised exercise, according to Ranque.
“Three months later, patients are brought back. Most are superior. Over half report being healed,” she told AFP.
But just 15% have shown any improvement.