What you need to know:
- Relatively new symptoms include diarrhoea, acute kidney failure and low blood pressure due to inflammation of the heart muscles.
- Increasingly, Kenyan patients who test positive for the virus are also reporting that they cannot taste or smell.
- Even worse is the fact that most of these difficult-to-identify symptoms can only be detected when the patient is hospitalised.
Fever, dry cough, fatigue, sore throat, aches, and pains are the most commonly reported symptoms of coronavirus. At this point it's clear to most that these are the tell-tale signs that your body’s immune system is fighting Covid-19.
However, as the virus spreads to more people across the globe and scientific research advances, it is emerging that these are not the only symptoms to look out for.
For instance, some people have presented with less typical symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, delirium, loss of smell and taste and more.
Scientists have been learning more about the novel coronavirus, and discover new ways the virus affects the body.
“Respiratory symptoms tend to be the most common, obviously, but we’ve also seen symptoms that involve other organ systems,” Dr Yubrine Moraa, an internal medicine physician told the Nation.
Of all the new and surprising symptoms that are emerging -- such as strokes and blood clotting and in children, the rare Kawasaki disease and purple toe rashes -- a phenomenon scientifically known as silent hypoxemia (silent hypoxia) might be the most perplexing.
This is a condition where the body’s oxygen levels are well below 90 percent, a life-threatening state, yet the individual is still able to breathe normally. No tell-tale signs such as shortness of breath, fast or shallow breathing or any other sign that anything is off are present.
Patients are often unaware that their bodies are deprived of oxygen and while they should be gasping for air, they appear to be perfectly comfortable, explains Health Ministry Director of Health Dr Patrick Amoth.
“You can have a serious symptom of Covid-19 and not know until you present yourself to the hospital,” he said.
A study published last month provides possible explanations for this condition.
“The condition is especially bewildering to physicians as it defies basic biology,” said the study authors.
The research, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, described the phenomenon as ‘confusing’ and ‘bewildering’.
Normal blood-oxygen saturation is between 95 and 100 per cent.
“In some instances, the patient is comfortable and using a phone at a point when the physician is about to insert a breathing tube and connect the patient to a mechanical ventilator which while potentially lifesaving carries its own set of risks,” said Dr Martin J. Tobin, the lead author of the study which included 16 Covid-19 patients with very low levels of oxygen.
People with vague, atypical symptoms of Covid-19 may go on to develop more classic symptoms as well, such as fever, muscle aches, sore throat, and trouble breathing.
How Covid-19 presents differs from individual to individual and is dependent on how healthy you are, among other factors that science is yet to unravel.
“Individuals differ and therefore, the same disease might present with entirely different symptoms from one individual to the next. That is why we are advising people to go to the hospital should they detect any change in their body,” Dr Moraa says.
According to her, learning about the less common symptoms may help both the public and clinicians recognise Covid-19 a bit faster before patients present themselves to the hospital when it's too late. For this to happen, doctors as well as the public must have a high index of suspicion.
“We have seen patients collapse and die of heart attacks or develop strokes soon after they arrive in hospital. Others have become too sick to even get to the nearest facility,” she commented.
As the pandemic progresses, Dr Geoffrey Kulabusia a medical immunologist at Egerton University, says the virus is “exhibiting very complex symptoms which we are now learning can cause permanent deformity to the body organs.”
Even worse is the fact that most of these difficult-to-identify symptoms can only be detected when the patient is hospitalised.
“We need to involve pathologists to analyse how the disease is manifesting in our patients. We need to get specimens,” said Dr Kulabusia.
In June, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) added loss of taste or smell to its list of Covid-19 symptoms after scientists at the University of California, San Diego studied responses from 59 patients.
Increasingly, Kenyan patients who test positive for the virus are also reporting that they cannot taste or smell.
Other relatively new symptoms include diarrhoea, acute kidney failure and low blood pressure due to inflammation of the heart muscles.
“As we are learning this virus, we are noticing symptoms that are not a classic presentation of Covid-19 such as personality changes or confusion because the virus has affected their central nervous system,” Dr Moraa added.