At least ten percent of all those infected struggle with the long-term effects of a corona infection, according to a new study. The authors criticize: The diagnostic and treatment options are insufficient.
The spectrum of symptoms is diverse – the severity varies: After a corona infection, there can be longer-lasting symptoms, summarized under the term Long Covid. According to new overview study in the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology, Long Covid follows at least ten percent of Covid infections. This means that around 65 million people worldwide are now suffering from the late effects of corona.
In Germany alone, it is assumed that at least one million people are affected. For their specialist article, the researchers evaluated the current study situation on the subject. They also included results from decades of research on diseases such as myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).
Identified more than 200 disease symptoms
The term Long Covid refers to all those symptoms that appear four weeks after a corona disease or are still present. Tiredness and exhaustion, shortness of breath, concentration and memory problems or muscle weakness: these are just a few of the possible symptoms. In the meantime, more than 200 symptoms, often of varying severity, have been identified, according to the “Nature” study.
These can affect a number of organ systems: from the heart and lungs to the stomach and intestines to the sex organs and blood vessels. Corona viruses can attack the “critical infrastructure” in our body and cause long-term damage. In addition, initial research results show that the risk of consequential damage does not decrease even after the second and third infection.
Most long-Covid patients recover after a few weeks or months. However, Carmen Scheibenbogen, head of the Fatigue Center at the Berlin Charité, says that she knows from her own experience that a large number of those affected are sometimes so seriously ill that they are unable to work and some are bedridden. For some, Long Covid can turn into a permanent, even worse illness: for example, the neuroimmunological disease ME/CFS.
ME/CFS: dizziness, muscle pain, crash
According to the disc arch, this is a complex and highly disabling disease. Even before the corona pandemic, many people would have suffered from it. The trigger can therefore not only be a Covid infection, but also an infection with the Epstein-Barr virus or an influenza pathogen.
Such a previous infection initially disrupts the energy metabolism of the body cells. The mitochondria, the power plants of the cells, are impaired. This robs the body of energy. He then looks for other ways of providing energy, but they are not as effective. Significant cognitive impairment, severe pain, sleep disturbances or an extreme feeling of weakness are possible symptoms of ME/CFS. So far, the disease cannot be treated causally. Doctors can, however, alleviate the symptoms.
Effect of vaccines: No clear study situation
The new “Nature” study shows that such secondary symptoms can occur after an infection, even despite a Covid vaccination. However, the studies do not come to a clear result here: An investigation therefore finds no significant difference in the development of Long Covid in vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Other research, on the other hand, puts the reduced risk of long Covid through vaccination at 15 to 41 percent.
Those affected are demanding better care structures
Mia Diekow from the “Long COVID Germany” initiative for those affected fell ill with Corona almost three years ago and has not really recovered since then. She speaks of an unsustainable situation. “We urgently need better care structures. There are also patients who are unable to get out of bed.” The clinical picture ME/CFS has been known for a long time. But it has never been adequately studied.
In many areas, research is still in its infancy, both in terms of the causes and treatment options for Long Covid. The Charité immunologist disc arch demands more capacities to be able to make diagnoses and care for patients. “We need specialists who are familiar with these clinical pictures. And we urgently need therapy studies with drugs that can cure the disease.”