As of 29 December 2020, Malaysia has had a total of 108,615 cases of Covid-19. While the number of new cases daily continue to cause some level of concern among the public, we appear to have taken comfort in the fact that only 457 people (0.4%) have died of Covid-19, while 86,715 people (79.8%) infected with Covid-19 have recovered.
This seems to have created the perception that while Covid-19 is indeed real, only very few people who get it die of it while everyone else recovers and goes along on their way. Covid-19, in essence, is being thought of more as an inconvenience than a serious disease.
Covid-19, however, is not a disease where one either dies or recovers smoothly from. What seems to be missing from the public consciousness is the fact that Covid-19 can and often causes many severe symptoms. These symptoms can also afflict a person for a long time.
This phenomenon has since been termed as ‘Long Covid’, where people who have survived past the acute phase of Covid-19 continue to suffer from the disease for weeks and months. ‘Long Covid’ sufferers experience symptoms such as severe fatigue, memory problems, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, muscle and chest pains, difficulty thinking and concentrating, breathlessness, as well as psychiatric illnesses such as depression.
It is currently unknown exactly how many survivors of Covid-19 experience ‘Long Covid’. A team of researchers in Italy reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that nearly 9 in 10 patients continued to experience at least one symptom of Covid-19 60 days after the onset of the disease. On the lower end, a study claims that 1 in 10 patients continue to be sick for three weeks or longer.
What is clear, however, is that the symptoms experienced can significantly impact the health of ‘Long Covid’ survivors. The fatigue experienced by many ‘Long Covid’ survivors has been reported to severely impair their ability to work, exercise, perform daily chores, or take care of their families. It has also contributed to their development of anxiety and depression.
There are two large reasons why we need to be aware that Covid-19 isn’t simply a disease that you either die of or recover from, and that ‘Long Covid’ exists. Firstly, we need to be more vigilant in protecting ourselves and everyone from Covid-19 as there can be tremendous suffering experienced even if one survives the disease.
Secondly, we have to recognise that the survivors of Covid-19 may have long-term health care needs, even after being discharged from the hospital. We need to provide them with the necessary support and health care required, the latter of which may be difficult to get while we are in the midst of this pandemic.
Health care providers will have to recognize that ‘Long Covid’ survivors may have recurring and extended healthcare problems, both physical and mental, which will require attention.
As we close out the year 2020, it is inevitable that we are all becoming fatigued with Covid-19. The danger of Covid-19 and the suffering that it causes is, however, very real. Please continue to be vigilant, adhere to the SOPs, and let’s keep everyone safe.
Dr Mark Cheong is a public health researcher.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.