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Professor of Medicine & Dean, UWI Faculty of Medical Sciences, Terence Seemungal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed hundreds of lives here in Trinidad and Tobago, left families anguishing, burdened the healthcare system, stretched treatment services, tore through the economy and its impact may still linger on despite the doses of hope being administered to the public.

This as “Long Covid” or “Post Covid,” a condition where the effects of the virus persist for weeks or months beyond the initial illness, is grabbing the attention of physicians and scientists who have now turned their attention towards the painful period after the acute phase has passed.

Professor of Medicine and Pulmonologist, Professor Terrence Seemungal said data remains relatively limited, however, apart from fatigue and post-intensive care syndrome, organ specific complications could lead to chronic health conditions.

“You may have a heart problem after COVID, even though you didn’t have it at the time of COVID, after about a month or so, something comes on. You were cleared of the virus but heart attacks become more frequent. There are neurological complications as well.”

According to Professor Seemungal, research continues to suggest that there was a myriad of complications to organs caused by the after effects of the virus.

Recent studies done and published in the Harvard Gazette have suggested that there is not a set time COVID long-haulers endure the condition.

“Groups of patients follow different time courses. Some people, not uncommonly, are very slow to recover, and it takes them three to six months to get back to feeling like they have their normal level of energy and that their breathing is improving. Others are nine or 12 months out from their infection, and they still haven’t noticed any improvement. They’re exhausted all day long, and they have severe difficulty doing their jobs because of memory and thinking issues, breathing discomfort, and other symptoms.”

Professor Seemungal has applauded the government’s steps to avert another potential public health crisis stemming from Post-COVID Syndrome. He said the establishment of specific treatment sites will be key in reducing any further fallouts from the pandemic.

“There is an attempt right now to address the issue, at the Arima hospital there is a clinic devoted to post-COVID patients and from what I understand the various RHA’s are all moving in that direction. The clinic being run at the Arima hospital is quite a good standard, you have a pulmonologist, cardiologist and access to psychological services if necessary.”

According to Professor Seemungal, the conditions that languish, while concerning, are not new to clinical practice. He said whenever someone has a viral infection, he/she can get a period of fatigue afterwards.

“I also mentioned hardening of the lung and frequency of heart attacks, those things happen after viral infections so there is a link between acute infections and cardiovascular risk factors, so don’t be scared about this, we are aware of it.”

The Pulmonologist warned that the best way to avoid post-COVID-19 complications is to prevent infection with the coronavirus in the first place by practising precautions and also getting the COVID-19 vaccine.