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Statistics suggest that a significant number of people could be affected by Long Covid. (Photo: Pixabay)

Mystery of Long COVID: Why we must prepare to deal with it

While India is preparing itself to avoid a second-wave-like situation in the country amid the predictions and apprehensions of a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, there is an urgent need to put in place measures and systems to deal with the Long COVID. Because the battle is not won with just recovering from the COVID infection, those affected by the SARS CoV-2 virus may have to face major health issues long after they believe to have dodged the danger.

What is Long Covid? Simply speaking, the term defines the long-term symptoms of coronavirus infections which may last for over 12 weeks. A number of studies across the world are throwing up various data on the effect of COVID infections, but a common thread through the statistics is that a significant number of affected people had relapses in the months after their initial sickness.

According to Office for National Statistics estimates, 1.1 million people in the UK were reporting long Covid symptoms in the four weeks to 6 March 2021. Though for more than two-thirds of these people the symptoms had lasted more than 12 weeks.

What is worrying is the fact that Long COVID is not restricted to people who were severely affected by the virus, the long-terms symptoms may manifest in asymptomatic or mild cases as well. That means even those who did not require hospitalisation for the treatment of the COVID-19 may also show the symptoms of Long COVID.

What are the symptoms of Long COVID?

The symptoms of Long COVID could be anything from fatigues to breathlessness, anxiety or depression to heart palpitations, chest pain to joint or muscle pain, or memory issues to loss of sense of smell.

The nature and duration of illness may vary from person to person. Though the analyses are still underway to know exactly how long the symptoms may last, it is believed – so far- that the time span of the health issues could range from 4 to 12 weeks.

Who is most at risk of developing Long COVID?

Again, nothing conclusive is out yet. But so far the researchers have found that those COVID infected patients who had more than five symptoms during their illness are more likely to develop Long COVID.

According to one study, it could affect around 10 percent of coronavirus-infected patients in the age group of 18-49, the figures may go as high as 22 percent for people over 70. Apart from that, people with a history of asthma are also more likely to develop long COVID.

What are the challenges in tackling Long COVID in India?

We still don’t know if any study on Long COVID is being conducted in India. But as we expect that the entire Indian population will be fully vaccinated by the end of 2021, the government and policymakers should also prepare plans and health infrastructure to tackle it as there are possibilities that the pandemic may last longer than expected with the emergence of new variants of coronavirus.

Clearly, Long Covid seems one of the most damaging after-effects of the pandemic worldwide and the health systems in India also need to be ready to handle it. But before that, it demands to be recognised as such initiating research to ascertain the data of people who could be or likely to affected by the long-term symptoms.

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