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Image / Editorial

Claire Byrne is still feeling the effects of coronavirus 4 months on — and she’s not alone

by Lauren Heskin
20th Jul 2020

Presenter Claire Byrne admitted she’s not yet fully recovered from her bout of Covid-19 in March, but what do we know about the aftermath of surviving coronavirus?

Presenter Claire Byrne spoke on the Human Nature podcast about the continuing impact Covid-19 has had on her health. After contracting the virus back in March, she admits to still feeling under the weather with excessive sneezing, fatigue and lethargy.

“I’m not entirely sure, but definitely there are residual things happening, like you know, taking Sudafed in the morning, that’s not normal, but I’m doing that sometimes,” she told host Rodney Edwards.

Her husband Gerry, who she believes did have the virus after suffering from similar symptoms around the same time she fell ill, is having an even harder time of it, the presenter explains. “He’s had quite a few issues as well, probably more so than I’ve had, with chest pain and burning lungs and all of that. He hasn’t gone back running, for example.”

Studies have only begun to look into the long-term effects of Covid-19 but here is what we know so far.

The lungs, heart, kidneys and brain

Any kind of severe respiratory infection takes significant time to recuperate from. Anyone who has recovered from a bout of pneumonia knows that you can experience shortness of breath and fatigue for months after you’ve gotten back on your feet.

According to WHO, people with mild cases of Covid-19 recover from the virus within two weeks, while those with severe symptoms may take between three to six weeks. However, as Covid-19 is a severe acute respiratory syndrome, it has a huge impact on our lungs, causing inflammation and, in severe cases, scarring. Some patients even develop ARDS, or acute respiratory distress syndrome, a type of lung injury that can require long-term care.

As well as causing damage to your lungs, Covid-19 also impacts your heart, kidneys and even your brain. A New York Times podcast found that emergency services were inundated with calls for symptomatic patients suddenly going into cardiac arrest and the Washington Post notes that in China, about 40% of hospitalised Covid-19 patients suffered from arrhythmias and 20% had some kind of cardiac injury.

The kidneys also appear to bear a brunt from Covid-19. A Scottish hospital found that some patients with no prior kidney issues required dialysis while in the hospital with Covid-19, with one nephrologist, Dr Samira Bell, saying that the number could be as high as 30% of all intensive care Covid-19 patients requiring dialysis. 

Some studies are showing that brain function has also been impacted by Covid-19. One study pointed to brainstem damage relating to respiratory control, meaning not only are patients struggling to breathe due to lung injury, but the neurons that control the system are damaged. This may point to why recovered Covid-19 patients still find themselves short of breath long after their lungs have fully recovered.

Naturally, anyone who suffered from severe symptoms or side effects that required hospitalisation will have more damage and need extended recovery time. A UK government survey estimates that 45% of people hospitalised with Covid-19 still require ongoing care.

What about those with mild symptoms?

Covid-19 patients with little or no symptoms can often recover quicker but are exposed to long-term issues too. The Covid-19 Symptoms Study, led by King’s College London professor Tim Spector has found that mild Covid-19 patients are experiencing a set of prolonged and unusual symptoms months after the virus has cleared the body.

Many are reporting a relapse of symptoms a few weeks after the initial onset, says WHO, and while it’s not certain whether they’re being reinfected or it’s a residual effect of the initial infection, research into antibodies seem to be pointing towards the latter.

Some Covid-19 patients have reported heart conditions post-recovery, possibly due to inflammation in the vessels as the body fights the infection.

One Chinese study even reported finding ground-glass opacities in the lung scans of up to 95% of asymptomatic patients, an indicator of potential lung damage in patients who did not or had not yet developed physical symptoms.

The long and the short of it

However, the truth is that while Ireland appears to have stemmed the flow of cases for the moment, from a scientific perspective, we are still in the very early stages. This is still an incredibly unknown virus and many more studies and years worth of research will be required to reach firm conclusions on the pathway of the virus.

As Claire Byrne pointed out in the same interview, “‘it’s worrying because nobody knows what the long-term impact is of Covid-19 because it’s so new.”

Featured image: Claire Byrne Live

Read more: Committee to meet today to discuss the effects of the pandemic on mental health

Read more: WHO reports largest single-day rise in coronavirus cases so far

Read more: Promising Covid-19 vaccine readies for final testing in the US

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