With no regular government reports regarding the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s okay to lower your guard. However, that could be a mistake. This is because, as studies show, the long-term effects of the disease can be devastating. And Britain might be sliding into a chronic illness timebomb.
Coronavirus and cardiovascular disease
Take cardiovascular disease, for example.
In March, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) published an article on how coronavirus can affect the heart. The BHF referred to a study published in Cardiovascular Research. It found that compared to uninfected people those infected were:
around 40% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and five times more likely to die during the 18 months afterwards. People who had experienced severe infection were at even higher risk.
The study added that those people in the infected group “were also at higher risk of stroke and atrial fibrillation in the short-term, but not the long-term”.
It went on to explain how, for example, the lack of oxygen and nutrients that coronavirus-infected people experience can result in heart damage. It can also cause both inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) and heart lining (pericarditis). Further, it can affect the lungs – leading to pneumonia.
Covid and neurological disorders
Coronavirus can also affect neurological and related disorders.
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In August 2022, an article published in the Lancet examined links between coronavirus and neurological diseases and disorders. It found that:
most outcomes had HRs [hazard ratios] significantly greater than 1 after 6 months (with the exception of encephalitis; Guillain-Barré syndrome; nerve, nerve root, and plexus disorder; and parkinsonism)… By contrast, risks of cognitive deficit (known as brain fog), dementia, psychotic disorders, and epilepsy or seizures were still increased at the end of the 2-year follow-up period.
The study also reported there were risks for children who had coronavirus, such as:
cognitive deficit, insomnia, intracranial haemorrhage, ischaemic stroke, nerve, nerve root, and plexus disorders, psychotic disorders, and epilepsy or seizures.
A sizeable proportion of older adults who received a neurological or psychiatric diagnosis, in either cohort, subsequently died, especially those diagnosed with dementia or epilepsy or seizures.
The study concluded with a stark warning to health systems:
The fact that neurological and psychiatric outcomes were similar during the delta and omicron waves indicates that the burden on the health-care system might continue even with variants that are less severe in other respects.
Health systems need to prepare
In March 2022, John Hopkins University published a Q&A session with Ziyad Al-Aly. He is the director of the Clinical Epidemiology Center and head of research and education service at Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System.
The session highlighted that:
anyone infected with COVID is at higher risk for heart issues – including clots, inflammation, and arrhythmias.
Al-Aly argued that so-called long Covid can:
give you fatigue and brain fog and result in new-onset diabetes, kidney problems, and heart problems.
He also warned:
On a government level, I think we definitely need to be prepared for this. We cannot move on from the pandemic and disregard its long-term consequences. Arguably the long-term consequences are going to be even more profound and stick with us and scar a lot of people around us for generations.
However, in the UK any preparations to deal with long Covid could be exacerbated by a haemorrhaging of clinicians:
GMC found 1/3 of Doctors who graduated in the UK moved abroad
1/3 go to one of four countries: Australia, New Zealand, USA & Canada
GPs twice as likely to report burnout as a reason to leave (42.8%)
— Steve Taylor (@DrSteveTaylor) May 24, 2023
In the UK coronavirus-related neurological disorders or heart-related illnesses will undoubtedly increase the pressure on a vastly underfunded health system.
Since May 2022 there has been a noticeable absence of government updates on coronavirus and the vaccination programme. Nor does it help that there are no more free test kits available, thus discriminating against poor people.
Where new variants are identified, people will need to be informed. The booster programme also needs to be made more widely available. Currently, it’s only available to people age 75 and older, or those with a weakened immune system. There are further restrictions from July. The government says:
After 30 June 2023, you can no longer book a COVID-19 vaccine online…After this date, you will only be able to get a vaccination if you are at increased risk from COVID-19, and in most cases, you will have to wait until the autumn.
Lack of or delayed treatment of long Covid disorders could see an increase in chronic illnesses, or early death.
Only with a far better-funded NHS can the adverse effects of coronavirus be mitigated in both the short- and longer-term.
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