Enlarge /. A patient receives oxygen in the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Covid-19 tent at Ana Francisca Perez de Leon II hospital in Caracas, Venezuela on Wednesday, August 26, 2020.
View more stories
A significant number of people infected with the pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 suffer from long-term symptoms and it takes many weeks or months to fully recover, the World Health Organization said in a press conference today.
"I've heard firsthand from people who are exposed to the medium to long-term effects of COVID-19 infection," said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "What is really about is the wide range of symptoms that can vary over time, often overlap, and affect any system in the body."
While there have long been reports of COVID-19 long-distance drivers, the WHO worked today to raise awareness of the problem. It is still unclear what percentage of those infected have medium to long-term health problems, Tedros noted. But it is clear that "this is not just a virus that is killing people." And with more than 45 million cases worldwide – and that matters – a small percentage means that a large number of people will be disabled in the long term.
It is also clear that long-term symptoms and complications affect a wide range of COVID-19 patients. Long-term effects have been shown in people with mild and severe illnesses. Young adults, the elderly, women, men, and even children have reported struggling with the disease for long periods of time.
In today's press conference, Tedros invited three guests to share their experience with COVID-19. He started with Professor Paul Garner, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Garner contracted COVID-19 in March. "I was fit and healthy and assumed that this COVID disease – I could brush it off my shoulder," he said. But that was not the case.
Garner said he suffered terrible fatigue, sweats, headaches, and mood swings for four months. He couldn't move either. Three months followed, during which he was utterly exhausted and fell behind in his recovery if he overdid it. He said things had only gotten better in the past two weeks.
“I never thought that this virus would wipe out seven months of my life. It's just gone. Evaporated, ”he said.
As an epidemiologist, he found that COVID has a wide variety of symptoms over the long term. "I had a certain shape," he said. Data shows that other victims develop heart damage, persistent shortness of breath, thinking problems, and other signs of organ damage.
"Postviral syndromes are not new," he added. "But what we have here is just a large number of people who are suddenly severely disabled."
Next, Tedros greeted Martha Sibanda, a nurse in Johannesburg, South Africa who was infected in June. Her symptoms started with shortness of breath, coughing, and fatigue, and things quickly escalated to the point where she needed oxygen. She was first hospitalized, but then taken to the intensive care unit, where she stayed for eight days. Although she was able to return to the infirmary afterwards, she still had problems stopping oxygen. She stayed in the hospital for another 26 days, all with oxygen. Now in her fourth month, she still has difficulty breathing and has not been able to return to work. Her goal is to get back to work by the end of the month, a full five months since her illness.
Most recently, Tedros invited Lyth Hishmeh, a previously healthy 26-year-old software engineer from Great Britain. Lyth became infected in March and began showing flu-like symptoms. After dealing with his illness at home for weeks, he collapsed trying to get groceries. Although the hospital doctors told him he was in terminal pneumonia, he still needs to recover and return to work.
"It's been almost eight months now and I still suffer from fatigue, brain fog, chest pain, palpitations, digestive problems and short-term memory loss," he said. "There is no system in my body that is not affected. If you had asked me eight months ago if I thought this would happen if I caught COVID, I would say no, no, not at all."
This threat "really reinforces what a dangerous virus COVID-19 is," Tedros added. “It also confirms to me how morally incomprehensible and impractical the so-called strategy of“ natural herd immunity ”is. Not only would it result in millions more unnecessary deaths, but a significant number of people on a long road to full recovery. "