As Covid-19 is a new virus, scientists are still discovering some of the long-term effects it can cause to those who have been infected.
Until recently, it was thought that the virus would simply cause flu-like symptoms that would pass with rest, or the infection would be fatal. However, it has become apparent that it can result in more severe effects that can be long-lasting.
What is long Covid?
“Long Covid” is a term that is being used to describe those who have recovered from a coronavirus infection, but are still experiencing some lasting effects, or the usual symptoms have lasted far longer than normally expected.
Most people who have tested positive for coronavirus, and did not require treatment in intensive care, typically recover from the virus within three weeks.
However, an estimated 10 per cent of people remain unwell beyond this period, while a smaller proportion can experience symptoms for months, according to a study by King’s College.
The study found that some 250,000 people in the UK alone are thought to suffer symptoms for 30 days or more.
In many cases, people who suffered with long-lasting effects of the virus were fit, active and healthy.
Scientists have not yet discovered why some people’s recovery from coronavirus is more prolonged, but a weak or absent antibody response, reinfection, inflammatory or other immune reactions, or mental factors, such as post-traumatic stress, could all be contributing factors, the British Medical Journal suggests.
Long-term respiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuropsychiatric sequelae have all been described as symptoms of other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, and these have parallels with some of the effects of long covid.
What are the long-term symptoms?
Typically, the most common symptoms of coronavirus include a cough, high temperature or fever, or loss of taste or smell, but these usually don’t last more than three weeks.
The long-term symptoms that some people experience often vary widely and encompass both physical and neurological effects, with these lasting into weeks and even months in some cases.
The most common symptom of long covid is severe fatigue, while other sufferers have reported breathlessness, a persistent cough, joint pain, muscle aches and mental health problems.
The vast spectrum of symptoms include:
- Severe fatigue
- Chest pain
- Muscle aches and weakness
- Joint pain
- Skin rashes
- Neurocognitive disorders, such as memory loss and lack of concentration
- Struggling to think clearly
- Digestive problems
- Loss of taste and smell
- Hearing and eyesight problems
- Persistent cough
- Hair loss
Many coronavirus sufferers have reported experiencing hair loss, with a recent study at the Indiana University School of Medicine identifying it as a potential long-term term symptom.
Dr Natalie Lambert, who conducted the study, said that nearly a third of 1,500 participants reported hair loss as a symptom, while others reported suffering with severe nerve pain, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and blurry vision.
However, this is the results of just one study and more are needed to identify a clear link between coronavirus and hair loss. The side effect is not currently listed as a symptom of Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the NHS.
Some experts have also said that suffering from coronavirus could trigger the stress hormone cortisol to be released, which can signal the hair follicles to shift from the growth phase into a transition phase and result in your hair falling out.
Why is the virus causing long-term effects?
It is believed that while the virus may have been cleared from most of the body, it can continue to linger in some small pockets which can cause longer-lasting symptoms.
As the virus can directly infect a wide variety of cells in the body, it can trigger an overactive immune system which causes damage throughout the body.
It is thought that the immune system does not return to normal after infection and this can cause damage to how the body’s organs function, such as if the lungs become scarred, as has been seen after Sars or Mers infections, which are both types of coronavirus.
Long Covid clinics
On Sunday (15 November), the NHS announced it would launch a network of more than 40 long Covid specialist clinics in England for those suffering with the long-term effects of the virus.
The 43 clinics will bring together doctors, nurses, therapists and other NHS staff to assess patients’ physical and psychological symptoms, which can cause continuing fatigue, brain fog, breathlessness and pain.
The news comes following a recent study which suggests young and previously healthy people with ongoing Covid-19 symptoms are showing signs of damage to multiple organs four months after the initial infection.