After a study suggested that about half of those admitted to hospitals due to COVID-19 suffer from one or more symptoms two years after the infection, health experts have called for more research and data collection for assessing the impact of post-COVID sequelae in India.
In one of the longest follow-up studies by The Lancet medical journal, the researchers have highlighted that COVID-19 survivors had a remarkably lower health status than the general population after two years.
This appears to be the case in India too, with the chairman of Sir Gangaram Hospital Delhi, Dr DS Rana, saying that he and other doctors at the hospital have been treating patients with long COVID reporting diseases involving ailments of the kidney, heart and lung for a longer period of time. But, he added, more studies are needed.
“We need more data to be collated from the hospitals and research upon that data is to be done for assessing the situation of patients suffering from long COVID in India,” Dr Rana said.
“The patients are coming to hospitals with persisting problems in lungs, eyes, kidneys even after getting treated for COVID-19. We are providing them with proper symptomatic treatment but for a broader understanding on this, one needs holistic data,” he added.
The Lancet study said that the burden of symptomatic sequelae remained fairly high in COVID-19 survivors regardless of initial disease severity with most returning to their work schedule within two years.
Taking note of the similarities in persisting symptoms reported in patients visiting hospitals and those highlighted in the study, Dr Rommel Tickoo, director of the internal medicine department at Max Healthcare, said most patients experience fatigue, shortness of breath and sleeping disorder.
“Mostly the symptoms are seen in elderly and comorbidities-ridden individuals. A lot of patients tend to ignore the initial signals like fatigue and brain fog, and this probably becomes one of the reasons for the longer duration of treatment,” he added.
However, Dr Sharad Joshi, associate director of pulmonology at Max Hospital, Vaishali, said long COVID is not limited to those who are suffering from comorbidities.
“There are patients who have sustained significant lung injury in COVID and fibrosis is also seen in their lungs. They come with repeated complaints of breathlessness. Even those who have recovered fully from lung fibrosis complain about breathlessness, these symptoms bring them back to the OPDs,” he said.
The Lancet study indicates an urgent need to study the problem and develop effective remedies. “Future studies should further explore the pathogenesis of long COVID and develop effective intervention strategies to reduce the risk of long COVID,” the study said.
In India, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) established the National Clinical Registry on COVID in September 2020 to collect data regarding clinical and laboratory features, treatments and outcomes of hospitalised COVID-19 patients.However, questions sent to ICMR regarding the quantum of long COVID cases in India remained unanswered.