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Post-COVID complications can be dire, fatal — Dr Oliver-Commey

BY: Doreen Andoh
• Dr Joseph Oliver-Commey — Acting Director, Ghana Infectious Diseases Centre

The acting Director of the Ghana Infectious Disease Centre (GIDC), Dr Joseph Adjetey Oliver-Commey, has called for post-coronavirus disease (COVID-19) clinics to be established to help manage the disease’s impact on patients who have recovered from it.

He said post-COVID-19 complications could be dire and fatal, hence the need for such clinics for patients with lingering symptoms until they were deemed to be free, to an appreciable extent, from any complications.

Dr Oliver-Commey, who made the call in an interview with the Daily Graphic, urged all recovered patients who had tested negative but still had some lingering symptoms not to become complacent because they had recovered but pay attention to whatever symptoms might be lingering and report quickly to hospital to avert complications and avoidable deaths.

“Patients would have recovered and tested negative, but the disease may have affected some internal organs, such as the lungs, brain, heart, kidneys and liver, causing them to still have symptoms of the disease,” he said.

Long COVID

Dr Oliver-Commey, who is also a member of the National COVID-19 Management Team, said the centre began undertaking post-COVID-19 clinics when it noticed that some recovered patients still exhibited symptoms, a situation referred to as long COVID.

“COVID-19 may leave scars in the lungs, making people affected unable to breathe normally as they did before, with the slightest thing they do making them gasp for breath.

“Meanwhile, all tests on them return negative, but you look at their CT scans and you find injury scars. So, yes, the recovery rate is high, but the effects of the virus can linger on and that is what we call post-COVID complication,” he said.

He said some post-COVID-19 complications could last for close to eight months, while some were irreversible.

He said the body could, after a while, adjust to the irreversible condition and the affected person would have to manage and live with it for the rest of his or her life.

Fortunately, he said, it was possible for health professionals to apply medication and guidance to reverse what was reversible over time.

Further explanations

Still on post-COVID-19 complications, Dr Oliver-Commey said most people infected with COVID-19 recovered completely within a few weeks, but others, with even mild versions of the disease, continued to exhibit symptoms after their initial recovery.

“Older people and people with serious medical conditions are the most likely to experience lingering COVID-19 symptoms. However, even young and otherwise healthy people can feel unwell for weeks to months after infection.

 He said the most common signs and symptoms that lingered over time included fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, pain in the joints and chest pain.

Other long-term signs and symptoms included muscle pain or headache, fast or pounding heartbeat, loss of smell or taste, memory loss, lack of concentration, sleep problems, rashes and hair loss and, then, in the long term, organ damage, he said.

He said even though the COVID-19 was seen as a disease that primarily affected the lungs, it could damage many other organs as well.

Prevention

Dr Oliver-Commey appealed passionately to the public to adhere strictly to the prevention protocols on the disease, such as wearing face masks, washing of hands and physical distancing.

He said those were currently the only sure ways to stay safe and avoid getting infected.

He said it was critical that majority of the population wore masks at all times to break the transmission of the disease.

“The disease is transmitted through droplets from the mouth and nostrils but was not airborne and so the mask prevents us from inhaling the virus. We need also to wash our hands with soap under running water regularly, since the hands pick the virus in the droplets in the atmosphere and introduce these into the body when we touch our faces, mouths, eyes and noses,” he said.

He advised that people who knew or suspected they had been exposed to the virus but were asymptomatic must report the symptoms they developed, even after the 14-day incubation period of the disease.

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