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We're about to see a wave of long Covid. When will ministers take it seriously?

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Long Covid is no respecter of youth, health or fitness. It afflicts more women than men but it can strike anyone down, including people whose initial infection seemed mild, or even asymptomatic. In some cases, long Covid could mean lifelong Covid.

The effects can be horrible. Among them are lung damage, heart damage and brain damage that can cause memory loss and brain fog, kidney damage, severe headaches, muscle and joint pain, loss of taste and smell, anxiety, depression and, above all, fatigue. We should all fear the lasting consequences of this pandemic.

Long Covid is shorthand for a range of conditions. Some scientists divide them into three broad categories, others into four. Of these, one seems to ring a bell. It’s a cluster of symptoms that bear a strong similarity to myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). This is a devastating condition that affects roughly a quarter of a million people in the UK, and is often caused, like long Covid, by viral infection.

Among the common symptoms of ME/CFS are extreme fatigue that is not relieved by rest, and “post-exertional malaise”: even mild physical or mental effort can make patients extremely unwell. Many sufferers are confined to their home or even their bed, with their working life, social life and family life truncated. There is, so far, no diagnostic test and no cure.

Yet ME/CFS has been disgracefully neglected by science and medicine. 

The NHS is now setting up specialist clinics to treat long Covid. But already, apparent mistakes are being made. Without the necessary caveats, the NHS recommends steadily increasing levels of exercise for people suffering from post-Covid fatigue. But as ME/CFS patients with post-exertional malaise know, this prescription, though it sounds intuitive, could be highly damaging.

We need massive research programmes into both long Covid and ME/CFS, coupled with better information for doctors. 

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Source: The Guardian, 21 January 2021

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