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Fear of post-Covid syndrome sends people on drug-buying spree

By Quynh Nguyen   March 26, 2022 | 09:19 pm PT
Not long after recovering from Covid, Quynh Huong started panic buying of drugs due to fear of long-terms health effects.

At first the 40-year-old woman in Hanoi's Cau Giay District was not too concerned, but panic sets in after her friends told her that people with mild Covid symptoms are more vulnerable to lung damage, stroke, memory loss, and even death.

She believed she had post-Covid-19 syndrome (also known as long Covid-19) since she still coughed and experienced shortness of breath when taking the stairs two days after testing negative.

So she began buying all kinds of drugs ranging from those that support lung functioning to vitamin and health supplements, and spent VND5 million ($220) in all.

She did not stop there, also joining online groups of people treating long Covid at home. Under each post seeking advice in these groups are numerous comments and advertisements promoting various kinds of treatments ranging from traditional Chinese herbs to medicines imported from Germany, Russia, Poland, South Korea, and others. Their prices range from a few hundred thousand dong to VND1 million.

"If I see lots of people buying a drug, I will also buy it," she says.

There are hundreds of post-Covid counseling groups online with the largest one having nearly 130,000 members. Every day there are up to 35 posts asking for long Covid treatment advice in these groups.

Dr Quan The Dan said Huong and many others are confused between Covid and post-Covid symptoms.

They assume they are cured as soon as their rapid test results are negative, and so when they continue to have cough, sore throat and breathing difficulty, they panic and assume they have long Covid, he explained.

"Patients believe they are fully recovered but in fact have not".

A woman gets her post-Covid check-up at Thanh Nhan Hospital in Hanoi on March 14, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/M.N

A woman gets a post-Covid check-up at Thanh Nhan Hospital in Hanoi on March 14, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/M.N

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the vast majority of people with Covid will recover completely, with only 10-20 percent experiencing long Covid symptoms.

It defines long Covid as a condition with at least one symptom that usually begins within three months from the onset of confirmed or probable infection with the coronavirus, persists for at least two months, and cannot be explained by another diagnosis.

If the condition resolves within a week or a month, the patient is not diagnosed as having long Covid.

Hoang Thuy of HCMC's Tan Binh District says she is terrified of long-term post-Covid health effects.

The 29-year-old, who got infected at the end of February, only experienced mild symptoms like fever, chills, shortness of breath, and fatigue.

But a week after recovering, her condition worsened as she started coughing more and getting severe headaches. She quickly got an X-ray taken and had a check-up at a private hospital, paying a fee of nearly VND1 million.

Looking at her test results, the doctor said her health was normal and her lungs were fine. She was advised to practice breathing exercises three times a day to recover faster.

But she was scared after hearing about a young man who experienced mild Covid symptoms but died a few weeks after recovering because his lungs had been severely damaged.

To reassure herself, she tried to buy medicines online despite being warned there is currently no Ministry of Health-approved post-Covid syndrome treatment.

On the dubious advice she got from online groups and from people around her, she bought medicines that purportedly boost the immune system for a whopping VND6 million.

However, she did not feel her health improve after two weeks, and the only difference she in fact noticed was a gain in weight.

Meanwhile, many people buy medicines out of precaution even when their health is stable after recovering from Covid.

Nguyen Lan of Hanoi's Hoang Mai District is one such. The 50-year-old woman doesn't have post-Covid syndrome but still buys health supplements and South Korean ginseng to detoxify her lungs and boost her immune system.

Hung, her husband, has warned her and tried to stop her from abusing drugs. But she thinks he only worries she is squandering away money and does not care about her health, he says sadly.

"Her health is normal, but she keeps believing she is sick".

According to Dr Nguyen Thu Huong, head of the Covid-19 prevention and control department at Thanh Nhan Hospital in Hanoi, says people should get a post-Covid check-up if they notice any abnormality after recovering instead of self-prescribing medicines.

She says doctors will provide prescriptions based on a patient's actual condition, and they do not need to take unnecessary supplements.

Though he has not contracted Covid, Manh Truong of Hanoi's Nam Tu Liem District still went to a pharmacy to buy a box of molnupiravir, an anti-Covid drug, two bottles of health supplements and other medications for nearly VND3 million.

"Prevention is better than cure," the 30-year-old says.

While there are no exact statistics, there have indeed been many cases of people suffering lung damage after recovering from Covid.

According to Hanoi's Bach Mai Hospital, abnormal lung lesions affect 50-60 percent of Covid patients.

Meanwhile, around 100 people visit Thanh Nhan Hospital every day for post-Covid checks.

A 62-year-old woman from Hoang Mai District undergoes post-Covid check-up at a hospital in Hanoi on March 14, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/M.N

A 62-year-old woman from Hoang Mai District undergoes post-Covid checks at a hospital in Hanoi on March 14, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/M.N

However, not everyone who gets Covid has lung damage. Most people who have it are patients who are over 60 or have underlying medical conditions.

Recovered Covid patients in the younger age group can experience long Covid but only with symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of concentration, sleep disturbance, and others for an extended period of time.

To avoid falling victim to misinformation, doctors advice people to get a post-Covid check-up one month after recovering if they have persistent symptoms, have had lung disease or are immunocompromised.

Otherwise, people who have recently recovered from the disease should avoid lifting heavy objects, eat easily digestible foods, drink plenty of water, take vitamins, keep their spirits up, get enough sleep, avoid excessive anxiety, and practice gentle breathing to reestablish their respiratory function.

Minh Hang, 45, of the northern Hai Phong City said her health improved about a month after recovery without having to take any additional supplements. She can now sleep better and no longer experiences shortness of breath when climbing stairs.

Huong said her health improved after a week.

"But I am not sure if it is because of the health supplements or my body recovered on its own. But as long as my health gradually stabilizes, I'm happy".

 
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