The World Health Organisation declared that the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a global health crisis, but the effects of the disease are still present. COVID-19 can increase the risk of cardiovascular health problems. Dr Rae Duncan, a cardiologist, originally had patients between 50 and 80 years old who exhibited cardiovascular symptoms. This was before the pandemic. However, now most of her patients are aged 16-40.
Most were healthy young adults with no pre-existing conditions, and the patients were disproportionately female. They are also housebound, bedridden, can barely stand, and have become wheelchair users. They can also not sit up for more than 20 minutes due to severe orthostatic intolerance. Coronavirus can damage the autonomic nervous system, and patients can no longer control their heart rates.
The recovery rates are low because reinfection rates are still high. When patients catch COVID a second time, they develop long COVID. Studies show that repeat COVID-19 increases the likelihood of complications. There is also twice the risk of death, thrice the risk of hospitalisation, twice the risk of long COVID and fatigue, and thrice the risk of heart disease and blood clots.
Getting COVID-19 a third time creates adverse effects where patients can’t get outpatient treatment. A third COVID infection can cause subsequent debilitating disabilities. The narrative that COVID is over is creating a breeding ground where stronger variants will likely emerge. Over 6 million people have died from COVID-19. By 2021, at least 144 million people worldwide exhibited symptoms of long COVID.
With countries now relaxing COVID travel restrictions, more COVID-19 variants will likely emerge, making readily available vaccines less effective. This isn’t sustainable long-term for young patients. COVID still has pandemic status, and countries now have the authority to treat COVID-19 as an emergency.
Face mask use has been reducing worldwide, and old habits of people going to work with respiratory infections continue. Many anecdotal reports show that a cold in Kenya is making patients extremely unwell. Social distancing has long since disappeared, and people no longer observe extensive sanitation as they did at the height of the pandemic.
Public health teams need to exercise more vigilance in treating respiratory infections. This will help reduce reinfection rates and lower the risk of new variants. Future healthcare plans will need to include long COVID patients. The teams can also keep conducting population-based surveys to monitor the characteristics of COVID. But research shows that public discourse acts like COVID happened long ago.
Certain variants can infect people who have previously recovered and are vaccinated. This is known as an immune escape. Many people worldwide will need longer-term care from reinfections. COVID is causing endothelial damage. This means that COVID is causing an inflammatory response in the inner lining of the blood vessels. Studies show that this reduces the availability of nitric oxide, increased oxidative stress, and thrombosis, among other conditions. This is what leads to long COVID. It also causes larger blood clots observed in long COVID patients. It also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Studies show that the most pronounced complicated risk is heart failure. Another study in the UK found that among 48 million adults, 1.4 million patients weren’t hospitalised. Over 250,000 patients developed arterial thrombosis. This is a heart attack or stroke within a year of initial infection. People also retain a significant risk of cardiovascular death up to 18 months after being infected with COVID. The risk of cardiovascular events is much higher in unvaccinated patients.
Initially, it was believed that children can’t contract and transmit COVID, but that has been proven false. Children are just as susceptible to infections. Schools are a major transmission zone because children get crowded and can’t socially distance or wear masks properly. Children initially get mild initial infections and recover fully.
However, scans were done on recovered children and revealed organ damage. There was subclinical organ damage in the lungs of children who contracted long COVID and those with mild infections. There is also lowered risk of long COVID among children, but it still affects them. It affects the hearts of children who have been infected. This emphasises the need to reduce reinfection rates. If nothing is done to reduce them, subsequent infections could lead to further organ damage.
Unlike the common cold, infections affect other non-respiratory organs. The number of reinfections can also lead to severe disability by the time they are adults. More needs to be done to ensure children’s respiratory safety, ensuring they have access to clean, unpolluted air so as not to damage their lungs further. Making other students and staff remain in temporary quarantine at home when they have infectious respiratory diseases should also help. People should also wear masks when they have colds or any infection that causes sneezing and coughing. There needs to be more investment in treatment but an insistence on preventing reinfections.
Gloria Mari is a culture writer based in Nairobi, Kenya. She writes on art, film, literature, health, and the environment. She has previously written for Kenya Buzz, People Daily, The Elephant, and Kalahari Review.