Long Covid worries haunt even the fully vaccinated

By Thuy An   January 6, 2022 | 12:00 am PT
Long Covid worries haunt even the fully vaccinated
A Covid-19 patient sits while waiting to be admitted to a field hospital in HCMC's Thu Duc City, July 7, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa
Many people including those who are fully vaccinated are less worried about getting infected with Covid-19 than having to suffer its long-term complications.

Thuy Linh, who's eight months pregnant, only goes out of the house to have her designated health checks. Hanoi’s Ba Dinh District, where she lives, is now designated as a high coronavirus risk area.

Fully vaccinated Linh says she is not afraid of Covid-19, but about what comes after.

Long Covid, also known as the post-Covid-19 syndrome, is a condition characterized by symptoms like fatigue, headache, anxiety and insomnia, which persist weeks or months after testing negative for the coronavirus.

Linh said she was prepared for the possibility of being infected despite being fully vaccinated because the society has already reopened. However, she was afraid long Covid would harm her unborn child. She has tried to find some literature on preventing the condition, but her attempts have been in vain.

Sometimes, she wonders if she would have worried less if she gotten and recovered from Covid-19 before she was pregnant.

Similarly, Vui’s entire family, residents of Ha Dong District, were infected back in December and treated themselves at home. After a week, the family tested negative. But Vui is still worried about possible complications Covid-19 could leave behind for her young children, especially as one who already suffers from muscle weakness.

In the fourth coronavirus wave, Hanoi has so far recorded nearly 57,000 infections, including around 20,000 detected within the community. With the nation shifting its coronavirus strategy to co-existence and easier access to vaccine, drugs and information, people have become less anxious even when they get infected.

But long Covid remains a challenge that scientists around the globe are grappling with. A research paper published by medical journal The Lancet in July said that an average Covid-19 patient would experience around 56 different symptoms. A third of them would continue to persist for at least six months after recovering from the disease.

Common symptoms include fatigue, weakness and "brain fog," while less common ones include hallucination, shivering, disrupted menstrual cycles and sexual dysfunction. All people who contracted Covid-19 may experience long Covid, including asymptomatic cases, the paper said.

Another research on a group of Covid-19 patients who’d recovered from the disease two months prior revealed that 14.9 percent of experienced depression, 12.2 percent insomnia, 14.8 percent anxiety, 12.8 percent mood swings, 18.9 percent memory decline, 19.3 percent chronic fatigue, and 32.2 percent post-traumatic stress disorder.

Those who’ve had Covid-19 are 5-6 times more likely to experience these conditions than those who haven’t, said Nguyen Viet Chung with the Department of Mental Health at the E Hospital.

However, while worries about long Covid are valid, people should not place too much weight on them, especially after outbreaks are put under control and the majority of cases are mild, he said.

Nguyen Minh Nguyen, a doctor at the Covid-19 Patient Treatment facility under the Hanoi Medical University Hospital, said around 80-85 percent of current coronavirus cases are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. Long Covid is more likely to happen to those with severe symptoms like lung damage, he added.

"You can’t get long Covid if you don’t get infected," he said, adding that the current goal is to vaccinate the population to foster immunity and prevent infection. Vaccination isn’t just to protect oneself, but also others, especially children, elderly people and others who are yet to be vaccinated. A surge in Covid-19 cases can lead to more severe illness and eventually overload the health system, he warned.

Do Van Dung, head of the Department of Public Health at the HCMC University of Medicine and Pharmacy, said people shouldn’t think that getting infected will eventually give them peace of mind, as reinfection is still possible. The principle should be trying to prevent infections however you can without letting it affect your daily lives, he said.

"Covid-19 is like a collective trauma," Chung said, adding that anyone could be impacted by it mentally, especially young children. In any scenario, preventing oneself from getting infected remains the most important goal in any disease management initiative, not just Covid-19, he stressed.

"Even though your symptoms won't turn severe or result in death, it would be a tiresome, money-wasting and time-consuming experience."

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