The Perils of Long Covid: How Covid-19 takes a toll well after the infection

India Today Editor-in-Chief talks about post-Covid syndrome, as Long Covid is formally known, in the June 28, 2021 edition of the India Today Magazine.

 |  4-minute read |   18-06-2021
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Few graphs have brought as much visual relief this year as the one illustrating India’s steep fall in Covid-19 cases. From a peak of over 400,000 cases a day in May, we are now down to less than 100,000 daily cases. The 60,471 cases reported on June 15 were the lowest daily count in 75 days. There has been an 85 per cent fall in the number of daily cases since the peak of 406,901 cases on May 7.

India has seen more than 29 million cases since the start of the pandemic, of which 28 million people have recovered. Yet, as the first wave taught us, we must not let our guard down when it comes to Covid-19. This is particularly because we have discovered a fresh set of problems caused by the virus.

Earlier, everyone dismissed Covid-19 as just regular flu, something we could recover from without any side effects. We now know this to be untrue.

The unpredictability of its symptoms continues to baffle experts and patients alike. But over the past year and a half, researchers have collected enough data to confirm that a majority of those infected go on to experience symptoms even after 14 days (the average time it takes for the body to fight off the virus). According to a May 2021 study by the Stanford University School of Medicine, 70 per cent of patients with moderate or severe Covid infection experienced a variety of symptoms months after recovery.

main_cover_061821010125.jpgIndia Today Magazine June 28, 2021 cover, ‘The Perils of Long Covid’

This is known as Long Covid. Symptoms include body ache, fever, fatigue, breathlessness, anxiety, change in voice and even memory lapses. One doctor told us how between 80 and 90 per cent of his patients have been left with dry cough, weakness and the tendency to get dehydrated post-recovery. The second and more worrying fact, as doctors tell us, is that the virus is striking every major organ of the body. This is because the virus attaches itself to the ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme) receptors, present in almost all organs of the body, including the lungs, heart, blood vessels, kidneys, liver and gastrointestinal tract. ACE2 is an enzyme that generates small proteins—by slicing up the larger protein angiotensinogen—that then regulate functions in the cell. The virus uses these ACE2 receptors as a doorway to enter and infect the body.

After the heart and the lungs, the two most common vital organs at risk are the brain and kidneys. Blood clots travelling to both these organs have been found in post-mortems of Covid patients.

Inflammation and thrombosis are the two other ‘silent killers’ that can strike patients who have seemingly recovered from Covid. These are the body’s natural defences against a virus attack, but, left to linger after the infection has passed, they can wreak havoc on the body.

In the absence of national data on the post-Covid syndrome, as Long Covid is formally known, or information on symptoms and risk factors that increase its likelihood, the accounts of doctors from Covid wards in the country paint a grim picture. Associate Editor Sonali Acharjee spoke to many such doctors across the country to put together our cover story, ‘The Perils of Long Covid’.

Long Covid only goes to emphasise the lethality of the virus and the fact that vaccines are the only shield we have against severe infection. There is, hence, a need for the government not to dilute its focus on vaccinating India’s 900 million adult population by the end of this year.

The phenomenon of Long Covid requires deeper study and greater understanding. Like an unshakeable spectre, Covid-19 pursues those who believe they have fully recovered. Doctors have to be sensitised about this, and it requires sustained treatment. Delhi, for instance, has a dedicated hospital to treat post-Covid patients. Fortunately, Long Covid can be defeated through a healthy diet, rest and regular medical check-ups. Complacency was never an option when it came to dealing with the virus. As we have now discovered, it applies equally to its aftereffects. Obviously, it’s not over when you think it’s over. So, if you have had corona, be careful.

(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for the cover story, ‘The Perils of Long Covid’, for June 28, 2021)

Also Read | The Age of Fear: A worrying shadow pandemic stalks the nation


Aroon Purie Aroon Purie @aroonpurie

The writer is chairman and editor-in-chief of the India Today Group.

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