More research needed on why symptoms linger among COVID-19 survivors -WHO

Yusuff Moshood

The World Health Organisation says it is concerned about the increasing cases of post-intensive care syndrome among recovered COVID-19 patients, noting that there is now a need for more studies to better understand the reason for protracted symptoms in many recovered patients.

According to the United States National Institute of Health, post-intensive care syndrome in COVID-19 patients is often characterised by a conglomeration of symptoms involving physical strength deficits, cognitive decline, and mental health disturbances.

These symptoms, the US institute said, are observed after discharge from critical care and can persist for a protracted amount of time.

However, WHO’s Head of Clinical care, Dr. Janet Diaz, said while it has been known that COVID-19 patients who got severely ill could develop post-intensive care syndrome, the
WHO is concerned that many patients are having prolonged symptoms.

Speaking in a video interview posted on the official Twitter handle of WHO on Sunday, Dr. Diaz said the reason for the prolonged symptoms in recovered COVID-19 patients needs to be understood.

“We are seeing those types of prolonged symptoms and functional limitations in patients who have been critically ill with COVID-19.

“That includes people who have a persistent cough, persistent shortness of breath, and perhaps some physical limitation due to being critically ill and in bed for a long time, as well as potentially cognitive issues after being sick.

“And so, we are concerned about that type of post-intensive care syndrome that we see with patients after acute COVID-19 hospitalisation,” she said.

The WHO official also noted that there are also reports of protracted symptoms even among patients with mild symptoms but who were hospitalised.

“There are also smaller reports, and this is something that we need really to understand better, of patients who are hospitalised… who are mildly ill.

“There are reports that those patients have continued to have protracted symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath, trouble with breathing and some extensive symptoms of fatigue.

“So, there is a concern there that needs to be much better understood about those patients that were mild and potentially without risk factors,” she said.

Dr. Diaz stated further that while it is still difficult to ascertain how long these protracted symptoms last in recovered patients, studies have revealed that some critically ill patients may have symptoms for up to six months or even one year.

“For those patients that have mild symptoms, we don’t have enough information to say how long those symptoms may persist,” she explained.

The WHO official stated that while it is difficult to know how many recovered patients are affected, the figure could be up to 50 per cent of those that were seriously sick and admitted in the hospital.

“I don’t have a proportion to share right now because the studies that have been done are relatively small. So, we can’t generalise that for the entire population with COVID-19.

“But again, if I go back to the post-intensive care syndrome, from what we know about critically ill patients, who have been ill with other diseases,… up to 50 per cent of those patients may have some sort fo functional limitation as I described before at the six-month mark.

“So, again, we don’t have the total proportion of the total numbers of patients, but it is very concerning with the total numbers affected with SARS–CoV 2…that number may be relatively large,” she said.

Diaz stated further that more efforts are required to prevent acute COVID-19 infection to address the challenge of patients with persistent symptoms.

“If we prevent acute disease, we will not have persistent symptoms. I think that is the number one thing,” she said.

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