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The Truth About Long Covid

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Some people have complained about lingering symptoms long after they stopped testing positive for COVID-19. Are these real or imagined?

Approximately 60% of Singapore residents have caught COVID-19, noted Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament on 1 August. Among these, those with mild or moderate symptoms would have had it for about two weeks, without long-term effects. Others — especially those with risk factors such as smoking, obesity and high blood pressure — may have lingering health problems even when they are no longer testing positive. This phenomenon has been dubbed ‘long COVID’.

According to the World Health Organization’s definition, long COVID is where symptoms persist, or return, three months after a person becomes ill from infection by SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These symptoms — including fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive issues — can be intermittent, but affect the person’s everyday functioning, and cannot be explained by another health problem.

About one in eight patients with COVID can experience a wide range of ongoing health symptoms, found a new study conducted in the Netherlands by researchers from the

University of Groningen. In the study, about 21.4% of 1,782 participants who had COVID-19 experienced at least one new symptom, or one that was more severe than before, three to five months post-infection.

Long-haulers may develop or continue to have symptoms that are hard to explain and manage even though clinical evaluations and routine blood tests may appear normal.

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tiredness, headaches and sore throats are symptoms similar to those reported by people suffering from myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome.
CDC also noted that some people, especially those who had severe COVID-19, experience multi-organ effects or autoimmune conditions, with symptoms lasting weeks or months. These can involve many body systems, including the heart, lung, kidney, skin and brain. As a result of these dysfunctions, they may be more likely to develop new health problems such as diabetes, heart problems, or neurological issues compared to those who have not had the illness.

A bad case of COVID can cause scarring in the lungs. Recovery is possible, but it takes time.  Some people can also end up with heart issues, including inflammation of the heart muscle. This could lead to shortness of breath, palpitations and rapid heartbeat. Another reaction is a loss of taste and smell entirely, or finding that familiar things smell or taste different or bad. For a quarter of those who get it, it resolves itself in a few weeks.

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