Pune: Long-term effects of COVID infection could include new medical conditions like hypertension, lung fibrosis and asthma, scientists at B J Government Medical College and Sassoon General Hospital indicated in their latest study.
Dr Rajesh Karyakarte, Maharashtra’s coordinator for genome sequencing and a senior scientist with B J Medical College, told TOI, “In the analysis of 617 COVID-19 patients in Maharashtra contracting either Omicron or Delta variants of the virus, we found that 1.94 per cent of participants developed these new medical conditions post-infection clearance. The most frequently reported long COVID symptom was malaise, followed by shortness of breath, fatigue, joint pain, and frequent episodes of cough and cold. They could last for over 5-17 months after infection clearance.”
He said COVID patients with more than four symptoms during acute infection, moderate to severe disease, those who required hospitalisation, and were hospitalised for more than five days showed a higher incidence of long COVID. The peer-reviewed study was recently published in the international journal, Nature (a Springer groups’ journal).
Regarding the study’s finding that 1.94 per cent of participants developed new medical conditions following the clearance of COVID infection, Dr Sanjay Pujari, the director of the Institute of Infectious Diseases, said, “The absence of a concurrent control group makes it difficult to associate the development of new medical conditions with COVID-19 consequence. This calls for further studies to confirm these preliminary findings.”
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USA, defines post-COVID-19 conditions as a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people experience at least four or more weeks after being infected with the SARS-CoV-2. This is used as an umbrella term for a wide range of physical, social and psychological health consequences experienced by patients. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines it as the continuation or development of new symptoms three months after the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection, lasting at least two months with no other explanation.
Dr Karyakarte said out of all the cases studied, 40 (6.48 per cent) experienced ongoing symptoms during the follow-up period. Those infected with the Delta variant had a higher prevalence of persistent symptoms (12.38 per cent) compared to those with the Omicron variant (5.27 per cent). The most frequent long COVID symptoms reported included feeling unwell (25 per cent), difficulty in breathing (20 per cent), tiredness after exertion (17.5 per cent), joint pain (15 per cent), and recurrent coughs and colds (15 per cent).
He said the development of post-COVID symptoms was influenced by various biological factors.
“These include tissue damage from extended hospital stays and mechanical ventilation, autoimmunity due to similarities between virus and host proteins, and formation of blood clots that can reduce blood flow to the lungs and heart, causing persistent respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms. Additionally, neurological and cognitive issues like memory loss and sleep disturbances are associated with factors like brain inflammation and tiny blood clots, potentially caused by the virus remaining in brain tissues,” he added.