Why your health may never be the same after Covid-19

By Lisa Summers
Scotland Health Correspondent

  • Published
Thomas Maronay has survived Covid-19
Image caption,
Thomas Maronay has survived Covid-19, but doctors are now looking into the side-effects of the virus and conditions that could last for patients like Thomas long after the virus has gone

Surviving coronavirus is a major feat.

But recovering from the initial onslaught of the virus on the body may only be the start of long-term health issues for some patients.

You've survived. But what happens next?

A month ago I visited the Covid wards at Dundee's Ninewells Hospital.

Staff were busy dealing with the surge in cases at the early stages of the pandemic.

It is a different picture now. Still busy, cases keep coming, but staff are now looking ahead.

'A worrying picture'

Doctors here are leading a major research project involving hospitals and universities across Scotland looking at the long term consequences of Covid-19.

For a small number of people, particularly those who have been treated in intensive care, a worrying picture is emerging of patients with lung, kidney or heart damage.

Image caption,
Prof Chalmers points out the white areas which show fluid on the lungs, and the start of a new condition - post-Covid lung disease

The study is being led by Prof James Chalmers who is also a full time respiratory consultant at Ninewells. He showed me an X-Ray of a patient who has been treated at the hospital.

He said: "We are concerned in the respiratory profession that we are seeing the start of a new lung condition which is post-Covid lung disease. There are a small proportion of patients who will be left with chronic lung conditions as a result of Covid and will require treatment.

"So we'll need to have the clinics and the specialists to look after these patients and provide them with long-term care".

Image caption,
Prof James Chalmers is seeing a small number of patients who have been left with chronic lung conditions

Dr Samira Bell is a nephrologist, a kidney specialist who is also part of the research team. She says one of the hardest things about this disease is that it is difficult to predict who will be worst affected.

Many patients do have underlying health conditions but they have seen younger people with damage to their kidneys too.

She says many European countries were taken by surprise at the number of patients who needed dialysis while being treated for Covid-19 in intensive care.

In Tayside they had the capacity to increase their dialysis machines although it has been a challenge in some other places.

She said: "We are seeing that patients are suffering from moderate to severe acute kidney injury in about 20-30% of patients and 30% of patients who are admitted to intensive care for Covid infection are requiring dialysis so the numbers are much bigger than we envisaged based on the data coming out of China."

Image caption,
Dr Samira Bell has been treating patients who need kidney dialysis as a result of coronavirus

The study has been funded by the Scottish government and will track patients who have been through intensive care at hospitals in Scotland.

Researchers will monitor their progress over the coming months looking for any long term serious illnesses that may have developed as a side effect of coronavirus.

In the Covid recovery ward, Thomas Maronay is desperate to get home to see his grandchildren. He was admitted to Ninewells two weeks ago, seriously ill. He needed ventilation support in critical care. He still uses oxygen to breath as his lungs continue to recover.

He said: "It was a nightmare, that first five, six days just eating, sleeping, I didn't know what was going on."

'Still feeling the impact'

I chat to a radiographer who is on the ward. She tells me there have been some real highs and lows over the last month. It has been rewarding to see those getting better, but really hard to hear about those who haven't made it.

Prof Chalmers tells me staff here have rallied. Many have themselves contracted coronavirus, they've plugged gaps because everyone has pitched in to help out. He himself, is about to start a night shift on the wards.

The immediate pressures of coronavirus on hospitals seem to be stabilising and social distancing has played a major role in that.

But early indications suggest that long after this pandemic has passed, the NHS will still be feeling the impact.