It is not uncommon for Covid-19 recovered patients to describe their illness period as very depressing, especially because of the isolation. But more worrying is the outcome of a latest study from the US which shows that one in three Covid-19 survivors is diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric condition within six months of infection. The study, published last week in the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet Psychiatry, used more than 230,000 electronic health records of Covid-19 patients mostly in the US looking at 14 different brain and mental health disorders. While 34% of survivors were diagnosed with at least one of these conditions, 13% of these people had their first recorded neurological or psychiatric diagnosis. Mental health diagnoses were most common among patients, with 17% diagnosed with anxiety and 14% with a mood disorder.
Although neurological diagnoses were more uncommon, they were more prevalent in patients who had been seriously ill during a Covid-19 infection. For example, 7% of patients who were admitted to intensive care had a stroke and 2% were diagnosed with dementia. Study authors also looked at about 100,000 flu patients and more than 230,000 patients diagnosed with a respiratory tract infection over the same time period and found neurological and psychiatric diagnoses were more common in Covid-19 patients. There was a 44% greater risk of brain or mental health disorder diagnoses after Covid-19 than after the flu, and a 16% greater risk than with respiratory tract infections, according to the study.
It is possible coronavirus infection could lead to anxiety or depression, as these conditions have been associated with inflammation typically seen in Covid-19, said Julie Walsh-Messinger, assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Dayton. But these psychiatric disorders also could stem from the stresses of the pandemic itself. “We’re seeing higher rates of depression and anxiety across the board regardless of (Covid-19 infection) or not,” she said. “It’s hard to tease apart how much of it is general stress-induced anxiety or depression because of lack of ability to socialise, lack of ability to engage in activities that one normally enjoys, fear about the future and how much of it is specific to the disease progress.”
Even so, the study is an important first step in what clinicians can expect from their patients who have recovered from Covid-19, she added. The size of the study also demonstrates how the long-term effects of Covid-19 can impact a country’s healthcare system even after the disease is gone, said lead author Paul Harrison, a professor at the University of Oxford in the UK. “Although the individual risks for most disorders are small, the effect across the whole population may be substantial for health and social care systems due to the scale of the pandemic,” he said. “Healthcare systems need to be resourced to deal with the anticipated need.”
The need for healthcare services post-Covid-19 infection could escalate, said Noah Greenspan, a cardiopulmonary physical therapist and founder of the Pulmonary Wellness Foundation in New York City. More than 2.9mn people have died of Covid-19 around the world since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to an AFP tally from official sources. The US is the worst-affected country with 560,115 deaths, followed by Brazil with 345,025, Mexico with 206,146, India with 167,642 and Britain with 126,980.
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