Why COVID-19’s long-term health effects are a cause for concern

Why COVID-19’s long-term health effects are a cause for concern
The effects of the coronavirus on the human brain are ‘variable,’ according to one specialist, but can be dramatic. (AFP)
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Updated 11 August 2020

Why COVID-19’s long-term health effects are a cause for concern

Why COVID-19’s long-term health effects are a cause for concern
  • Survivors could face a number of ailments given the disease’s multi-organ effect on the human body
  • Latest strain of coronavirus has been described as an invisible enemy, slowly revealing new symptoms

DUBAI: What was first identified as another respiratory disease akin to the common flu has taken the lives of over 600,000 people around the world in just six months.

The latest strain of the coronavirus has been described as an invisible enemy, slowly revealing new symptoms as the global scientific community continues investigations into it.

Since the first outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), traced to a wet market in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, the infection quickly developed into a full-fledged pandemic, with over 15 million cases reported to date. Symptoms have multiplied, leaving puzzled experts determined to find a cure.

Findings published this month appear to confirm growing concerns about the infection’s link to serious and potentially fatal brain disorders as well as cardiovascular complications.




Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Jeff Drew carries out research into the virus at the Stabilitech laboratory in the UK. (AFP)

“We’re seeing things in the way COVID-19 affects the brain that we haven’t seen before with other viruses,” said Michael Zandi, a consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London, after the publication of new research in the scientific journal Brain.

Common flu-like signs such as fever, dry cough and sore throat were the first set of symptoms reported at the start of the pandemic. However, the list rapidly expanded to include shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, nausea and several more symptoms just months later.

Today, the biggest concern among health professionals is the virus’ insidious impact on the brain, with more than 300 studies of COVID-19 patients worldwide showing neurological abnormalities.

One study published in Brain involving 43 patients — 24 males and 19 females — confirmed a range of neurological complications in mildly affected and recovering patients.

Commenting on the new findings, Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases and vaccine expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said the virus’ impact on the brain is “variable” and can range from having no visible impact to causing “large vessel occlusions,” known more commonly as “very large strokes.”

With the virus refusing to discriminate based on age or color, severe cases have been reported among young and relatively healthy individuals as well as those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly.




Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases and vaccine expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota

“Obviously, the risk goes higher the more severe the disease; large vessel occlusions in young people have occurred with moderate to severe COVID-19 cases. But it can happen to people anywhere along that spectrum,” Poland told Arab News.

In the neurologic realm, the study’s findings showed that patients suffered from encephalopathy; stroke; inflammation of the central nervous system; peripheral nerve problems; cognitive and mental health issues, with delirium, psychosis and several cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, an immune reaction that attacks the nerves and causes paralysis.




Dr. Taoufik Al-Saadi, chief medical officer and chair of the Neurology Department at the American Center of Psychiatry and Neurology in the UAE

Other symptoms included depression, anxiety and brain fog as well as a loss of smell, taste and sleep in mild and asymptomatic patients.

Another study, “Neurological associations of COVID-19,” published on the Lancet Neurology website, confirmed that a growing number of case reports and series from around the world described the same array of neurological manifestations, noting the virus is of a scale not seen since the 1918 influenza pandemic.

According to Poland, “health care systems are recognizing that there’s going to be a greatly enhanced need for rehabilitation and recovery centers after the COVID-19 pandemic” as a result of the latest outcomes.

His views are echoed by Dr. Taoufik Al-Saadi, chief medical officer and chair of the Neurology Department at the American Center of Psychiatry and Neurology in the UAE, who pointed out that although most individuals are inclined to experience a mild or asymptomatic disease course, some have required ventilatory support.

Data suggest that “one in five infected individuals are hospitalized, and one in 10 individuals are admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), requiring ventilatory support, due to acute illness in response to this infection,” he said.

“The main issue in survivors of these cases is the physical, cognitive and mental impairment that may persist for several years beyond hospital discharge. Indeed, 80 percent of ICU survivors with confirmed COVID-19 may follow that course,” Al-Saadi told Arab News.

Cases of memory impairment, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress-like disorders have all been reported in up to 30 percent of these patients and may last up to several years following hospital discharge, said Al-Saadi.

“These complications would certainly affect survivors of this disease in all aspects of their everyday life whether functioning at work, home or in the social sphere,” he said.

Additionally, cognitive, physical and mental problems could result in chronic pain conditions, further causing sleep disorders, which could ultimately affect the overall quality of life. What frightens the scientific community even more is that the long-term impact of such neurological effects has not yet been determined.

However, the virus’ potential long-term health effects do not stop at causing damage to the brain. Scientists are increasingly recognizing the cardiovascular side effects of the virus, with reports of markers of cardiac injury even in young people.

According to Poland, cases of COVID-19 have resulted in inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), decreased heart-muscle function (cardiomyopathy), irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) and dilation of coronary and other blood vessels due to vascular inflammation as well as blood clots.

For patients with a prior history of cardiovascular disorders and increased risk factors, such as hypertension and diabetes, chances of heart complications significantly rise when infected with COVID-19.

The British Heart Foundation confirms these findings, noting that this strain of the virus has been found to increase the risk of blood clotting or thrombosis, leading to cardiovascular problems and, in some cases, organ failure.

The term “COVID toe” has also been coined in reference to painful red or purple swollen patches on the feet, usually the toes of infected patients, a condition known as Chilblains and typically associated with exposure to cold weather.

Some experts have linked COVID toe to blood clots and other neurological issues caused by the virus.

Examining the plethora of symptoms and conditions triggered by the virus, Poland believes experts must not yet discuss the long-term health effects of COVID-19 on patients as research is still in its infancy.

“What we can say is that early indicators of pulmonary fibrosis and scarring are irreversible. We have seen myocarditis and cardiomyopathy, some of which can improve, but we don’t know if they will completely improve,” he said.

Poland also referred to a group of patients he calls the “long-haulers” who have developed “almost a chronic fatigue-like symptom” accompanied by an assortment of symptoms as result of infection with the virus. For these patients, the virus’ impact is long-lasting.

Evidence of kidney and liver damage has also been reported in cases around the world, with no clear indication of the long-term consequences.

Similarly, the impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women and their unborn children is yet to be defined with certainty.

With science yet to answer so many questions, Poland’s prognostication is no more reassuring than the available findings on virus. “My guess,” he said, “is that young, healthy people will recover, and older people will have a more difficult time getting back to baseline, if at all.”

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Twitter: @jumana_khamis


EU targets key Belarus sectors after plane diversion

EU targets key Belarus sectors after plane diversion
Updated 21 June 2021

EU targets key Belarus sectors after plane diversion

EU targets key Belarus sectors after plane diversion
  • Ministers meeting in Luxembourg backed broad-ranging measures targeting major revenue sources for Belarus
  • Officials said measures include ban on sales of surveillance equipment and tightening of an arms embargo to be formally adopted by 27-nation bloc

LUXEMBOURG: EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed to sanction key sectors of the Belarus economy as the bloc ratchets up pressure on President Alexander Lukashenko after the forced landing of an airliner.
Ministers meeting in Luxembourg backed broad-ranging measures targeting major revenue sources for the Belarusian regime: potash fertilizer exports, the tobacco industry, petroleum and petrochemical products.
Officials said the measures — including a ban on sales of surveillance equipment to Belarus and tightening of an arms embargo — should be formally adopted by the 27-nation bloc in the coming days.
The ministers also officially signed off on adding 86 additional individuals and entities to an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist.
Seven people — including defense minister Viktor Khrenin and transport minister Alexei Avramenko — were sanctioned for the forced landing of a Ryanair passenger jet last month.
The remaining 71 individuals — including Russian tycoon Mikhail Gutseriyev, Lukashenko’s son Dmitry and daughter-in-law Liliya — were targeted for ties to the Belarus government’s sweeping crackdown on opposition or for supporting the regime.
“Today we have confirmed and decided that sectoral sanctions will be taken against Belarus, which will have a severe impact on the Belarusian economy,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said ahead of the meeting.
“We want the release of the political prisoners, an end to the violence against protesters and the opposition, and an inclusive dialogue that will lead to free and fair elections.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said earlier that the economic sanctions should be wrapped up after a summit of the bloc’s leaders in Brussels later this week.
“We’re going to hurt the economy of Belarus heavily.”
EU statistics show that trade with Belarus topped 10 billion euros in 2020.
Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who insists she rightfully won last year’s poll, welcomed the inclusion of business tycoons and top officials on the blacklist.
“It’s a rather strong sanction list,” she told a press conference in Brussels.
Belarusian strongman Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet on May 23 to intercept the Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania.
When the plane was forced to land in Minsk, Belarus arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega on board.
The EU responded quickly by blocking Belarusian airlines from flying to the bloc and stopped carriers from its 27 nations from using Belarusian airspace.
The bloc had already slapped sanctions last year on 88 individuals — including Lukashenko and his son — over a brutal crackdown on protests since the veteran leader claimed victory at elections in August deemed fraudulent by the West.
The authorities detained thousands during the demonstrations and the EU says that some 500 political prisoners remain behind bars.
“We are clearly showing that Stalinism and state terror no longer have a place in the 21st century,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.
Lukashenko, ruler of Belarus since 1994, has so far shrugged off the pressure with backing from his key ally Russia.
Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis complained that Belarus was hitting back by sending migrants, mostly Iraqis and Syrians, across its border.
He warned the flow could increase after sanctions were approved and that Lithuania “might need help and assistance from other European countries.”


German tourists investigated in Italy for fatal boat crash

German tourists investigated in Italy for fatal boat crash
Updated 21 June 2021

German tourists investigated in Italy for fatal boat crash

German tourists investigated in Italy for fatal boat crash
  • Investigators were awaiting results of blood analyses to determine if tourists were drinking before crash
  • Woman's body was recovered from the lake Sunday evening by Italian firefighter rescue divers

ROME: Two German tourists from Munich are being investigated in Italy for a boat collision on Lake Garda that killed an Italian man and woman, Italian Carabinieri paramilitary police said.
Italian state RaiNews24 TV said investigators were awaiting results on Monday of blood analyzes to determine if the tourists had been drinking before the crash. The Carabinieri said both Germans are free on their own recognizance while under investigation for alleged manslaughter and failure to provide assistance.
The woman’s body was recovered from the lake Sunday evening by Italian firefighter rescue divers and the man’s body was found in their small boat earlier in the day.
The Carabinieri office conducting the investigation declined to give further details because the probe is still ongoing.
The Corriere della Sera newspaper said the victims’ boat was badly gashed near the bow and that the man, 37, had suffered a grave abdominal wound. One of the 25-year-old woman’s legs was partially torn off, it said. A search had been launched for the woman after women’s clothing was found on the boat near the man’s body.
Police located the tourists after people noticed their docked motorboat was damaged, the Italian daily said.
The Italians reportedly had met with friends on shore Saturday evening, then headed out on the man’s boat and were about mid-lake when the vessel was struck by the motorboat. Corriere della Sera said investigators found pieces of wood from the Italian man’s boat imbedded in the tourists’ boat.
Lake Garda, which has many shoreline resorts in northern Italy, is very popular with European visitors.


UN rights chief ‘deeply disturbed’ by ‘serious violations’ in Ethiopia’s Tigray

UN rights chief ‘deeply disturbed’ by ‘serious violations’ in Ethiopia’s Tigray
Updated 21 June 2021

UN rights chief ‘deeply disturbed’ by ‘serious violations’ in Ethiopia’s Tigray

UN rights chief ‘deeply disturbed’ by ‘serious violations’ in Ethiopia’s Tigray
  • Extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, sexual violence against children as well as adults, and forced displacement

GENEVA: The UN rights chief voiced alarm Monday at continued reports of “serious violations” in Ethiopia’s violence-wracked Tigray region, by all parties in the conflict, including continued abuses by Eritrean troops.
“I am deeply disturbed by continued reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations and abuses against civilians by all parties to the conflict,” Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council, pointing to “extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, sexual violence against children as well as adults, and forced displacement.”


US envoy hopes North Korea responds positively on offered talks

US envoy hopes North Korea responds positively on offered talks
Updated 21 June 2021

US envoy hopes North Korea responds positively on offered talks

US envoy hopes North Korea responds positively on offered talks
  • United States’ diplomacy with North Korea stalled over its nuclear program and US-led sanctions

SEOUL: President Joe Biden’s special envoy for North Korea said Monday he hopes to see a positive reaction from the North soon on US offers for talks after the North Korean leader ordered officials to prepare for both dialogue and confrontation.
Sung Kim, Biden’s special representative for North Korea, is in Seoul to speak with South Korean and Japanese officials about the United States’ stalled diplomacy with the North over its nuclear program and US-led sanctions.
The trilateral talks followed a North Korean political conference last week where leader Kim Jong Un called for stronger efforts to improve his nation’s economy, further battered last year by pandemic border closures and now facing worsening food shortages.
The US envoy Sung Kim said the allies took note of the North Korean leader’s comments and are hoping the North will respond positively to the proposal of a meeting.
“We continue to hope that the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach and our offer to meet anywhere, anytime without preconditions,” Kim said during his meeting with South Korean and Japanese nuclear envoys, Noh Kyu-duk and Takehiro Funakoshi, respectively. He was referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the officials from the three countries reaffirmed a coordinated approach toward North Korea and shared commitment to work toward a quick resumption of dialogue.
North Korea’s economic setbacks followed the collapse of Kim Jong Un’s ambitious summitry with then-President Donald Trump in 2019, when the Americans rejected the North Koreans’ demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of their nuclear capabilities.
Kim Jong Un in recent political speeches has threatened to bolster his nuclear deterrent and claimed that the fate of diplomacy and bilateral relations depends on whether Washington abandons what he calls hostile policies.
US officials have suggested Biden would take the middle ground between Trump’s direct dealings with Kim and President Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience.” But some experts say the North likely must take concrete steps toward denuclearization before the Biden administration would ease any sanctions.
South Korea, which is eager for inter-Korean engagement, has expressed optimism about a quick resumption of diplomacy.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Kim’s comments during a ruling party meeting last week, where he said he expected both dialogue and confrontation with the United States, demonstrated a flexibility toward diplomacy.
But others saw Kim’s comments as merely a reiteration of Pyongyang’s wait-and-see stance of insisting Washington budge and offer concessions first.
While Kim urged officials to boost agricultural production and brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, none of the decisions reported after the party meeting seemed directly related to facilitating talks with the United States.
While displaying an openness to talks, the Biden administration has provided little detail about its policy on North Korea beyond a long-term principle of taking a “calibrated and practical approach” on diplomacy while simultaneously upholding sanctions against the country.
Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected and was elected a South Korean lawmaker, posted on Facebook that Kim’s comments at the party meeting seemed tailored to mirror what the Biden administration has said about the North.
“Advocates of engagement see Kim Jong Un’s recent mention of dialogue as a sign North Korea is opening the door for talks, but Pyongyang has not yet expressed a willingness for working-level negotiations on denuclearization,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
He said the North may return to negotiations only after demonstrating its strength with post-pandemic economic recovery and provocative military tests, which could possibly come later this summer when the United States and South Korea usually hold their combined military exercises. The allies describe the drills as defensive in nature, but the North claims they are invasion rehearsals.


China urges US not to seek ‘political manipulation’ after Taiwan COVID-19 vaccine aid

China urges US not to seek ‘political manipulation’ after Taiwan COVID-19 vaccine aid
Updated 21 June 2021

China urges US not to seek ‘political manipulation’ after Taiwan COVID-19 vaccine aid

China urges US not to seek ‘political manipulation’ after Taiwan COVID-19 vaccine aid
  • The United States delivers 2.5 million COVID-19 shots to Chinese-claimed Taiwan

BEIJING: China’s foreign ministry urged the United States on Monday not to seek “political manipulation” in the name of vaccine assistance after the United States delivered 2.5 million COVID-19 shots to Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian made the comment at a daily news briefing in Beijing.