Even as the world is inching back towards a faint semblance of normalcy after the pandemic, the health sector across the globe is now dallying with yet another dilemma of what is known as the post COVID-19 syndrome or long COVID. Data of hundreds of thousands of infected people, especially the aged patients, reveal it is not something to be taken lightly. Though there is nothing to panic, it requires attention and has to be addressed with caution, says Dr. Sreejith, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, Kozhikode Medical College.
Talking to Onmanorama over the phone, Dr. Sreejith shares a few vital facts regarding the post COVID-19 syndrome and the cautionary measures to deal with it.
"It has been found that many of the patients who have recovered from the SARS-COV-2 infection continue to suffer from persisting, moderate to severe symptoms of the disease," the doctor says.
Long COVID symptoms
“Some of the common symptoms are fatigue, breathlessness, throat pain and so on. Some even complain about feverish condition and giddiness. For some people, the time taken to regain the lost sense of taste and smell, the most common among the symptoms, is far too long,” the doctor says.
He also points out the onset of mental illnesses like anxiety, depression and so on and some are even persistently gnawed by the thought that they would never be cured completely.
“There is a correlation between age and increase in the severity of long COVID, and respiratory illness is one of the major problems that is detected in many of the COVID-recovered patients,” says Dr. Sreejith.
Continue the protocol
What is of prime importance is the continuance of COVID-19 protocol even after one is cured of the infection.
“Take increased amount of water, increase consumption of fruits and vegetables as they contain large amounts of vitamins, avoid junk food, wear mask, maintain social distancing, etc. are some of the criteria a person suffering from long COVID should be observing,” he says.
Delay the urge to get back to routine too soon
There is a general tendency among COVID-recovered persons to get back to the earlier routine as fast as possible. This could prove detrimental to their health. So, the best way for a complete recovery is to slow down the process of getting back to the previous diurnal activities one had been following, he cautions.
Get enough hours of sleep and rest. Avoid smoking, alcohol or use of any other substance if one was addicted to them previously.
“In some cases, people have this confusion about whether they should continue with the medicines they have been taking earlier. The best advice in this regard can be sought from the doctors they had been seeing for such ailments,” Dr. Sreejith says.
“There are gadgets these days, which can be used to monitor health metrics at home. The fingertip pulse oximeter to measure oxygen levels should be used regularly and when the level goes down from 98 % to 99 %, which is normal, to 94% or below one should immediately consult a doctor as it is a warning signal that demands attention.
Responsibility at community level
The medical fraternity across the globe is just studying the new SARS-CoV-2 strain and misconceptions and rumours are sure to do the rounds causing adverse impacts on the general public.
So, it is responsibility of the recovered people to help shun myths and bogus assumptions by sharing true and accurate information on the basis of their experience and the medical regimen they were following for the benefit of others, says the doctor.
Vaccine and the time it would take
Though there are a number of vaccine candidates, which offer promise to contain the bio bubble, it remains to be seen how fast and how extensively any of them would be applied for the benefit of the public at large.
“Besides, no vaccine has ever been able to prognosticate a cent per cent immunity against any virus infection,” he says.
And, the chances of a reinfection too cannot be ruled out. So, again, the prime criteria is follow the existing COVID-19 protocol such as wearing masks, washing hands, using santitizers, social distancing and so on.
The post COVID-19 clinics
“It very important to that people should be aware of the facilities already in place across the state and in the country and even around the globe to deal with post COVID-19 syndrome now. There are counters at medical colleges and major health centres that are aimed at exclusively addressing the condition,” Dr. Sreejith says.
In Kozhikode medical college there is an OP section on Thursdays, to attend persons suffering from long COVID, says the doctor.
“Avail of the facilities provided by post COVID-19 clinics and rest assured that there is nothing to be panic,” Dr. Sreejith says.
Locate the health centres where it is provided and make use of health programmes provided by them. But at the same time know that it is not yet time to go out and mingle with people, he warns.
The positive takeaways after testing negative
He says that as part of dealing with the long COVID his department has been distributing questionnaires to patients who recovered from COVID. Those who are found to require medical assistance are contacted over the phone for further consultations and medication.
However, the doctor points out that the post COVID-19 phase should be considered as an opportunity to restart life itself.
People who had so far been neglecting the need for timely food consumption, proper water intake, nutritional balance, regular sleep pattern, physical exercise, rest and so on have now realised their importance.
There are many who had to give up substance use as part of the treatment regime. For all those it's an opportunity to continue the disciplined lifestyle and start their life afresh, the doctor concludes.