When first detected, coronavirus was considered a respiratory illness that affected patients for two to three weeks. A new review suggests that COVID-19 infections may last much longer than expected in some people. Called ‘long Covid’, those with continuing symptoms may be impacted in four different ways, which could have a significant psychological and social impact on individuals, and society.

Most infected with COVID-19 will recover within two weeks, but a new report by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in the UK says that thousands are living with ongoing symptoms.

In a series of interviews with 14 members of a ‘Long-Covid’ Facebook support group, researchers from the NIHR found that recurring symptoms were affecting almost everything for these patients. They struggled to breathe and had problems with their brain, the heart and cardiovascular system to the kidneys, the gut, liver and skin.

These symptoms could be a result of:

– permanent organ damage to the lungs and heart

– post-intensive-care syndrome

– post-viral fatigue syndrome

– continuing COVID-19 symptoms

“It is becoming increasingly clear that, for some people, COVID-19 infection is not a discrete episode but one that marks the start of ongoing and often debilitating symptoms,” writes the researchers. “For some, this is related to their rehabilitation following a hospital admission, but others are reporting life-changing experiences that follow an initial infection that they managed at home, with symptoms becoming more severe over time.”

The psychological impact of long covid could be just as severe. Researchers compare previous studies into SARS, noting a particular Canadian study that showed that of the 117 people with SARS who were interviewed, 17% had not returned to work one year later and 44% had used mental health services.

“A systematic review of the mental health of people with SARS concluded that in the early stages of recovery there is a fear for survival and fear of infecting others. Later concerns are around perceived stigmatization, reduced quality of life, and psychological/emotional distress. Post-traumatic stress symptoms were found in high proportions of survivors even as late as 51 months after the initial infection infection,” they write.

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