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Explainer on potential complications of COVID-19

This article was published on
July 9, 2021

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Research shows that about 5% of patients with COVID-19, and 20% of those hospitalized, experience severe symptoms necessitating intensive care. Dr. Wekesa explains more on these complications.

Research shows that about 5% of patients with COVID-19, and 20% of those hospitalized, experience severe symptoms necessitating intensive care. Dr. Wekesa explains more on these complications.

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Dr. John Masasabi Wekesa

Former Director General Ministry of Health (Kenya) and Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine,Department of General Surgery-Kenyatta University.

 

Complications of COVID-19 are grouped into two: acute and chronic.  Acute complications normally are the ones which give us a lot of problems because you can end up with acute respiratory failure. That means that you are not able to exchange between the gas in the blood and the environment, and therefore it leads to multiple organ failure.That is why you will find acute pneumonias, we call it COVID pneumonias.

The disease can also lead to Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). You’ve heard the debate about AstraZeneca forming clots but even the disease itself can give you a formation of clots which are now disseminated all over the body and you can end up bleeding from everywhere.

Sometimes COVID-19 causes liver failure; I have seen patients with liver failure but the main acute complications are acute respiratory failure,acute pneumonia and DIC.

In chronic complications, you just feel tired and forgetful most of the time. For example, when my wife and I got it, we started forgetting things and experiencing unusual fatigue. So, it also affects your memory a bit.A number of patients admitted in different hospitals in the country also reported feeling the same. This can be managed through supplements being given to patients: zinc, vitamin C and there are some medicines which improve memory and development of the brain.

Some patients may also end up with problems like chroniclung diseases, whereby there is that change in the lung tissue which becomeslike scar tissue. When it does that, that is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and interstitial lung disease. Such patients become dependent on oxygen even after being discharged from hospital. They’re not able to really go back to their full capacity because their lungs have not yet expanded. Sometimes,you might find that it can affect up to 40% of a patient’s lungs, leaving them with only 60% lung capacity, making it difficult to carry out normal activities. Thus, they must at all times have a cylinder of oxygen and an oxygen concentrator at home.

Secondly, there are a lot of psychological issues.Actually, it is a very lonely disease whereby when the patient wants to be seen by the doctor or the nurse, they (doctor/nurse) have to go and prepare for 30minutes before they come to the room. The patient is left alone, even if they ring a bell, the doctor or nurse will not come immediately. I had an experience where patients with their primary doctors were discussing things on phone. When you realize that your primary doctor is also scared of coming to see you, you can imagine the psychological effect that you’ll have. Then you hear that theperson in the ICU who moved from where you are in the ward to the  ICU is dead. So, you start thinking that am I next? So you can imagine the anxiety and depression, such a situation maycause. These are some of the things that we need to address. We need very robust mental health programmes which we can articulate to stem this.

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