Coronavirus

A 3D medical illustration of the Coronavirus. 

| Pool

Long Covid: Latest study offers clues on what to look out for

What you need to know:

  • The Ministry of Health has not explicitly addressed ways of managing Long Covid patients.
  • Long Covid Kenya Support Group on Facebook is the only platform that gives patients a chance to speak out about their issues.

When the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in the country, Brian Otieno was among them.

As a young man with mild symptoms, he thought he would be fine in a few days, or weeks. Two years later, the 23-year-old, who worked in the hospitality industry, has remained indisposed.

The Nation spoke to him last year when he was battling the post-viral symptoms and a follow up yesterday showed he is yet to fully recover.

“Unlike last year, I am now able to move around town but that is the only improvement. I still experience extreme fatigue and I can only be active in the morning until 2pm. My heartbeat still races so fast and my muscles ache. I cannot do some of the things I used to do,” he said.

The scientific community was, until yesterday, still in the dark as to what could be the possible indicators that make one a candidate for Long Covid. 

More than two years since the onset of the pandemic, the mystery surrounding Long Covid (also called Covid-19 long haulers or post-acute sequelae of Covid-19 -PASC) has been unraveled by a new study that reveals the indicators of such a condition.

The Ministry of Health has not explicitly addressed ways of managing Long Covid patients despite data from researchers saying that it affects about 31 to 69 per cent of patients who had been infected with the virus. 

Brian Otieno

Brian Otieno, 27, who has been battling long Covid for almost two years. 

Photo credit: Pool

Some of the symptoms that have been highlighted by researchers are shortness of breath, memory loss, brain fog, stomach upset issues, fatigue, loss of smell and a persistent cough.

The Long Covid Kenya Support Group on Facebook is the only platform that gives patients a chance to speak out about their issues with the hope of getting a solution to their condition.

The study was published in the scientific journal, Cell, after researchers followed more than 300 patients for about three months from the time they were found positive with the virus.

Over 50 researchers, who were part of the study, narrowed down to four possible pointers that healthcare workers could use to help in managing potential Long Covid patients.

“Detectability of most long Covid factors at Covid-19 diagnosis emphasises the importance of early disease measurements for understanding emergent chronic conditions and suggests Long Covid treatment strategies,” stated the researchers.

The first indicator is the presence of the coronavirus RNA in the blood system, also known as the viral load, during the earlier days of infection. The more the viral load, the likelier one will have Covid-19 symptoms associated with Long Covid.

Also, when an autoantibody (a harmful antibody that attacks components of the body as it does in autoimmune diseases) is found in the system. This means they have low immunity to fight the disease.

Developing Long Covid

Diabetes Type 2 also puts a patient at risk of getting Long Covid. This is the only pre-existing condition that the researchers have highlighted in their study. 

“We found that even mild Covid-19 patients also have a similar likelihood of developing Long Covid symptoms as severe ones and that ascertain that pre-existing conditions, like the Type 2 diabetes are predictive of different Long Covid symptoms,” said Yapeng Su, one of the researchers in a tweet yesterday.

The final indicator is the reactivation of Epstein-Barr virus, a virus that is common in human beings, which spreads through the saliva and is a member of the herpes virus’s family.

The Centres for Disease Control and prevention points out that one of the symptoms for Epstein-Barr virus is extreme fatigue, a common denominator for people with Long Covid. Others are fever, sore throat, head and body aches. 

Yapeng Su tweeted that the reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus goes a long way and is linked to what happens in other diseases like multiple sclerosis (a disabling disease of the brain and the spinal cord) only that the study didn’t focus on this specific disease.

“It’s totally but hard to directly evaluate from our cohort. We did find certain autoimmune diseases such as lupus share some common features with our autoantibody-high patients who are more likely to suffer Long Covid symptoms,” he said. 

“Our analyses provided a framework to understand the variability of Long Covid and a rich resource for interrogating the biological factors that contribute to it, which can potentially be utilised to monitor and guide interventional trials to treat and prevent post-acute Covid-19 symptoms,” stated the researchers.

Another study by researchers in the UK showed that based on self-reported Long Covid instances, vaccination reduces the risk by 41 per cent.

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