The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may be receding into the painful past, but for survivors of virus, there will likely be many lingering effects. A year into the pandemic, there is a growing body of research into the long-term health consequences of the virus, with some shocking findings.
Anxiety and Mood Disorders
A new University of Oxford study published Tuesday in the journal Lancet Psychiatry found that up to one in three people who contracted COVID-19 developed a neurological or psychological condition within six months of their infection. The most common diagnoses were anxiety and mood disorders, which were found in 30 percent of over 236,000 patients (mostly in the U.S.) studied by scientists.
These effects are more common in hospitalized patients than those treated in an outpatient setting, suggesting a link between neurological disorders and the severity of COVID-19 infection.
“Our results indicate that brain diseases and psychiatric disorders are more common after COVID-19 than after flu or other respiratory infections…We now need to see what happens beyond six months,” said Maxime Taquet, a psychiatrist at the University of Oxford and a co-author of the study, at a press briefing, reported by CNN.
The good news is that COVID-19 doesn’t seem to cause some of the most serious brain diseases, including Parkinsonism and Guillain-Barré syndrome, both of which scientists know are sometimes associated with a viral infection.
The findings of the new U.K. study are consistent with what was discovered in a smaller study of COVID-19 survivors last year. A study published in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice in December 2020 found that the coronavirus could also cause seizures and movement disorders, even in moderate cases.
The study looked at 921 patients hospitalized at a hospital in Boston Medical Center from April 2020 to July 2020. Nearly 10 percent required neurologist examination on seizures, delirium, movement disorders and other brain injuries related to COVID-19.
In February, a study of nearly 400 COVID-19 patients in a hospital in Italy, one of the first pandemic epicenters in the world, found that 30 percent of coronavirus survivors experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, a psychological disorder that could cause panic attacks, insomnia and other long-term health issues if left untreated.
Similar after-effects were observed in studies on survivors of the SARS epidemic from 2003 to 2004. But the public health implication of COVID-induced PTSD is much greater simply because of the pandemic’s scale and reach.
A better-understood long-term effect of COVID-19 is damage to the respiratory system. The coronavirus attacks lungs and causes inflammation. Researches from the early phase of the pandemic showed that a patient’s lungs don’t fully recover even after COVID-19 infections are treated.
“Recovery from lung damage takes time,” Panagis Galiatsatos, an expert on lung disease at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, explained in a report in April 2020. “There’s the initial injury to the lungs, followed by scarring. Over time, the tissue heals, but it can take three months to a year or more for a person’s lung function to return to pre-COVID-19 levels.”
“Once the pandemic is over, there will be a group of patients with new health needs: the survivors,” Galiatsatos predicted. “Doctors, respiratory therapists and other health care providers will need to help these patients recover their lung function as much as possible.”
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