Parallel Pandemic: Top experts talk about long covid, the role of timely intervention & technology

S Ganesh Prasad, Founder, MD & CEO, GenWorks

The possibility of developing serious health issues in people who have ‘successfully’ recovered from covid-19 and omicron is making India’s top pulmonolgist worried about trivialising any post recovery symptoms as long covid.

“Every day, 50% of our OPD deals with post recovery complications such as tuberculosis and
fungal infections from patients who have apparently recovered well,” said Dr Deepak Talwar,
senior consultant and chairman, Metro Respiratory Center of Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, Metro Hospital, Noida.

“Out of this, 20% of the cases are very difficult to manage as these patients thought these were symptoms of long covid and ignored it,” said Dr Talwar.

Long covid is a condition where people who have recovered from the disease experience temporary health issues such as shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction and brain fog.

The World Health Organisation describes long covid time frame as anywhere between three to nine months. The assumption is that these symptoms will disappear, automatically, without any medical intervention.

However, according to Dr Talwar, who has been a pulmonologist for over 30 years, this approach is far from ideal and can sometimes prove fatal for patients. “Ultimately 30% of such (long covid) cases can get serious, because they were ignored,” he said.

A study published in the journal of Lung India, last year, warns of a parallel epidemic of post covid syndrome or long covid emerging in the country. 

It suggests that up to 88% of covid-19 survivors in the country may have this syndrome. India, incidentally, has a recovery rate of over 90% with 4.2 crores out of the 4.3 crore pandemic cases reported.

Even people who recover from omicron, a less severe strain than the previous covid-19 variants, can experience immunity loss, making recovered patients vulnerable to future diseases, more than ever.

Hence it’s important that people reach out to doctors and get investigated upon, instead of waiting for the symptoms to disappear on its own, said Dr Talwar.

A Multisystem Disorder

What makes covid-19 and its variants so difficult to manage is the complex nature of the disease. It attacks the body in different ways, ranging from mild to life-threatening.

A Covid-19 patient not only comes up with lung disease, but also a slew of other allied health issues such as abnormal blood clotting, problems in the heart, brain, muscle or diseases that can affect the gastrointestinal tract, from vomiting to diarrhoea.

“In a covid patient, all these co-morbidities act together, unlike a patient with any other respiratory illness.

The disease also progresses rapidly, going into situations where you cannot maintain patients without ventilator,” said Dr Talwar.

“A patient who has recovered from covid will have more residual damage in the lungs by the end of two years, than someone who has recovered from a viral pneumonia.”

Expanding medical technology

In March 2020, soon after the World Health Organisation declared covid-19, a pandemic, the American Thorasic Society and the European Respiratory Society issued an advisory, asking doctors to limit lung function tests—the crux of pulmonary diagnostics— in patients, as they could represent a potential avenue for covid-19 transmission. The use of CT scans too was limited only to diagnosing covid-19 patients.

The restrictions, meanwhile, led to the popularity and growth of two new technologies among doctors, paramedical staff and patients:

Vyaire impulse oscillometery and spirometry. Both spirometery and oscillometery are devices used to measure lung function and ascertain if there is any blockage to airflow in the lungs.

“What made Vyaire technology popular was that it could be performed on patients without the risk of spreading infection,” said Dr Talwar.

“Our testing time too was shortened drastically, to five minutes, compared to conventional lung function tests, which took up to half an hour. This made it possible for us to offer these devices to more people. Nobody could have imagined using this kind of technology in India, on a large scale, before the pandemic.”

Says S Ganesh Prasad, Founder, MD & CEO Genworks Health ‘’ At Genworks, our constant endeavour has been to bring best in class technology from the best companies in the world unrepresented in India and provide distribution access through our strong distribution team ahead of time to impact early diagnosis and focussed treatment.’’

‘’We identified Vyaire before the pandemic as they provided cutting edge technology & a complete range of Lung Diagnostics portfolio starting from a Spirometer that is FDA approved to a high-end Body Plethysmograph equipment.

Now, during the pandemic we have been able to accelerate adoption from major cities to small towns.’’ Says Ganesh Prasad.

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