Scars of Covid-19 could last for life as doctors warn of long-term damage to health

One in three patients who recover from coronavirus could be harmed for life, with long-term damage to their lungs, as well as chronic fatigue and psychological disturbances, research suggests. 

Experts said there was growing evidence that the virus could cause persistent or even permanent trauma, including impairment to the brain and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

NHS guidance seen by The Telegraph suggests that around 30 per cent of patients who recover from Covid-19 may be left with damaged and scarred lung tissue, if it follows patterns of similar diseases. 

This could amount to around 100,000 of the 300,000 people who have so far tested positive in the UK.  Limited testing during the pandemic means the figure may be still higher.

Some estimates suggest around 3.5 million people in the UK are likely to have been infected by Covid, meaning that more than 1 million could be left facing long-term consequences. 

In an interview with The Telegraph, the head of the new NHS centre for Covid recovery said she was worried about how little was known about just how long the consequences may last. 

Dr Hilary Floyd, clinical director at the NHS Seacole Centre, said she had been shocked by how young many of its patients were, with healthy people who were in their 40s and 50s when the virus struck now facing long-term fatigue and disability. 

‘They may always have some level of debilitation’

Dr Floyd told The Telegraph: “These are people who were independent, they might be running their own business, going to the gym, swimming, active – now they are at the point they can’t get out of bed.

“We have a couple of patients in their 40s at the moment; we really didn’t expect that. We were expecting them to be older, we have seen a lot in their 50s and 60s who are really struggling particularly because their expectation of getting back to normal is much greater.”

She added: “They may always have some level of debilitation.”

The NHS guidance for GPs and community services warns that up to half of patients treated in intensive care units for the virus may be left with “persistent physical, cognitive and psychological impairments”,  including chronic fatigue. 

So far around 13,000 patients have received such treatment.  And one in 10 of those discharged from hospitals in England after treatment for Covid-19 has been left with acute heart injury,  it says.

In many cases the fatigue and breathlessness is so severe that patients are only able to do short bursts of 10 minutes supervised activity at a time, Dr Floyd said. 

Many patients are also struggling to cope with the psychological impact from the changes to their health, with therapists on site, she said, adding: “There is a lot of anxiety.”

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