Seven in ten younger COVID-19 patients show ‘mild’ organ damage months after infection

We’ve heard many anecdotes of elder people bearing the brunt of the harshest COVID-19 symptoms during the start of the pandemic. The younger crowd appeared to be mostly safe from the worst of the pandemic. As COVID-19 research has come along, it is clear now that is not the case. A recently published study reports that almost 70 percent of ‘low-risk’ patients show damage to one or more organs almost four months after they were the first infected with SARS-CoV-2.

This study looked at the effects of long COVID-19 in the younger population. It was carried out by a team of researchers from the Oxford University Hospitals, Mayo Clinic Healthcare, and the University College London. The study has been published in medRxiv, and still awaiting peer-review.

What is ‘long COVID-19 ‘?

“Long COVID” or “long-haul COVID” refers to the long-term side effects of COVID-19 that many people are now finding themselves facing. Sufferers of long COVID are colloquially referred to as “long-haulers.”

Any two people who have suffered from long COVID can have very different symptoms. Some of these include extreme fatigue, headache, muscle weakness, low-grade fever, brain fog, hair loss, etc. They can also include a cough that won’t go away, joint pain, muscle aches, hearing and eyesight problems, headaches, loss of smell and taste, as well as damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, and gut, according to a report by BBC.

Vital organs appear to be affected.

The study looked at 201 people from the UK from April to September. The patients enrolled in the study had an average age of 44. Of the 201 participants, 18 percent had a history of hospitalization due to COVID-19. The researchers report having found damage in the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and spleen due to the infection.

“The good news is that the impairment is mild, but even with a conservative lens, there is some impairment, and in 25 percent of people it affects two or more organs,” Amitava Banerjee, a cardiologist and associate professor of clinical data science at University College London told The Guardian. “This is of interest because we need to know if [the impairments] continue or improve – or if there is a subgroup of people who could get worse.”

The team also found that a person’s symptoms and blood tests did not predict their organ impairment nor hospitalization. The study doesn’t report any severe damage to vital organs but strongly indicates that COVID-19 patients (even with mild-to-moderate symptoms) get proper healthcare to overcome the infection completely.

The research also cautions that some assumptions have been made that could limit the scope of its findings. It describes “mild rather than severe organ impairment.” Still, the pandemic’s scale and high infection rates in lower-risk individuals (by age and underlying conditions) is an important, less-explored research area under COVID-19. The study does highlight the need for more and medium- and longer-term impact studies of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the healthcare or policy spheres.

This is all the more important because the repercussions of COVID-19 are not just physical but also mental. An Oxford study found that in the three months after a person has been tested positive for COVID-19, they have a higher risk of developing mental illness. They also found that those who already have a pre-existing mental disorder have a 65 percent higher chance of contracting and being tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a report by The Print, researchers from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)’s Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi are recruiting participants to participate in a long COVID study.

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