Medical experts have said the aftermath of the virus on brain cells could be one of the reasons COVID-19 patients experience lingering health issues.
The experts say the lingering health issues include fatigue, muscle weakness, sleep difficulties, and anxiety or depression.
They also say the virus destroys some of the lung tissue in some of those who are severely affected; and the greater the level of destruction in lung tissue, the more the individual struggles to breathe, the greater the fatigue.
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, a virology lecturer at the Department of Virology, University of Ibadan, Dr. Olusola Babatunde, said SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, can infect neural cells.
“Most of all these symptoms like fatigue, sleep deprivation and depression are signs of neuron declination to show that the cells in the brain are still stressed,” Babatunde noted.
He said, unlike other cells that regrow when they are affected, the neurons do not die.
“Unlike other cells in the body, when they are affected, they die and other cells will grow, but neurons don’t die. So, when they are affected, they are stressed,” he said.
He, however, advised survivors to continue to manage the symptoms as directed by medical experts.
“Sometimes, COVID-19 survivors probably have to do other tests to be sure that it has not affected something. But most people will eventually get out of it. Those that don’t get out of it might be people with comorbidities. The post-COVID symptoms will be more difficult for this set of people.
“For the elderly, the best thing is to avoid being infected and take extra caution and those around them should take precautions because, most of the time, they are home; but when they get infected, they have to seek medical attention because their cases can be critical.
“The chances of death are higher in those people, compared to those who do not have comorbidities. This is not to say that those that don’t have comorbidities don’t die.
“So, studies are still ongoing, we still don’t know know how long the post-COVID symptoms will be because we are just in the second year.
“For instance, measles virus can damage the neurons and people that are infected and eventually get their neurons damaged may have hearing loss,” Babatunde said.
On his part, Nigerian-born epidemiologist and population health scientist at Harvard University, Cambridge, Dr. Ibraheem Abioye, says COVID-19 survivors experience lingering health issues because the virus destroys some of the lung tissue in some of those who are severely affected.
“The lungs are responsible for ensuring we take in sufficient oxygen. The greater the level of destruction in lung tissue, the more the individual struggles to breathe, the greater the fatigue.
“Even if the individual cannot perceive the difficulty in breathing, the ability of their respiratory system to take in oxygen may not be as optimal as others who don’t have the same problem,” Abioye said.
He added that COVID-19 seems to have long-term effects on the nerves.
“Fundamentally, COVID-19 affects the blood vessels, but blood vessels serve all parts of the body, including the nerves in the brain and everywhere. In some patients, this could lead to fatigue (as well as other problems including headaches) over the long term,” he added.
A study published in the journal Lancet suggests that COVID-19 survivors suffer physical and mental after-effects of COVID-19, six months after leaving the hospital.
The study involved in-person evaluations of people who had been admitted to Jin Yin-tan Hospital from January 7 to May 29 last year.
The patients, whose median age was 57, were given physical exams, lab tests, and a standard measure of endurance and aerobic capacity called a six-minute walk test.
The patients were also interviewed about their health. About 350 of them also underwent lung function tests, chest CT scans, and ultrasounds.
Patients who were more severely ill during their hospital stay had more severe impaired pulmonary diffusion capacities and abnormal chest imaging manifestations, and are the main target population for the intervention of long-term recovery.
Findings from the study showed that 76 percent of patients reported at least one symptom at six months after symptom onset, and the proportion was higher in women.
The most common symptoms were fatigue or muscle weakness and sleep difficulties
Additionally, 23 percent of patients reported anxiety or depression at follow-up.
The researchers, led by Chaolin Huang, noted that “The percentage of patients with pulmonary diffusion abnormality [or, respiratory failure] during follow-up is higher in patients with more severe disease at acute phase.
These patients also have a higher CT score at follow-up. Ground glass opacity and irregular lines are the most common pattern at follow-up.
“In multivariable analysis, women and participants with severity scale 5–6 have a higher risk of lung diffusion impairment, anxiety or depression, and fatigue or muscle weakness.
“Our study also investigated long-term extrapulmonary organ manifestations and death during follow-up.
“For example, persistent renal dysfunctions were observed, some participants were newly diagnosed with diabetes, and venous thromboembolic diseases (including cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events) occurred.
“A previous study reported that persistent impairment in renal function can occur following an episode of acute kidney injury, with the potential to progress to end-stage kidney disease with dialysis.
“The persistent follow-up of discharged patients with COVID-19 is necessary and essential, not only to understand the association between extrapulmonary diseases and SARS-CoV-2 infection, but also to find ways to reduce morbidity and mortality by efficient prevention,” study authors say.
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