Long-haul COVID a ticking time bomb, say experts
Local health professionals are concerned about whether the number of Jamaicans suffering from long-haul COVID-19 could rise because of the increase in infections amid the fourth wave and the presence of the Omicron variant in Jamaica.
There are more than 14,400 active cases in Jamaica, with 1,220 people testing positive for the virus, according to health ministry data dated Sunday.
The latest daily positivity rate was 62 per cent, with the seven-day average rate at 55 per cent.
Sixty-three-year-old Dave Chin Tung, who is hypertensive, contracted COVID-19 in October 2020.
More than a year later, he’s still battling a cough – a COVID-19 long-haul symptom.
Chin Tung said that he was hospitalised, with a five per cent chance of survival, at the University Hospital of the West Indies for 10 weeks, six of which he spent in a coma.
“I had blood and plasma transfusions, I had a heart attack, a stroke and when I came out of hospital, I couldn’t walk. I had to go to rehab for three weeks to learn to walk,” said Chin Tung, the CEO of Go Jamaica Travel.
Chin Tung has been coping with the cough by taking daily doses of antihistamine at night and cough medicine in the daytime. Owing to the stroke, he is unable to make a fist with his left hand.
Chin Tung noticed that swimming in salty water helps him more than the over-the-counter medicines, but with a surge in COVID-19 infections, he has not been to the beach in a few months.
He said he was concerned about how long-haul COVID-19 could affect Jamaica’s healthcare system in the months and years to come.
Prior to COVID-19, he visited the doctor once per year for an executive profile and had an annual electrocardiogram (ECG).
Requires close monitoring
Now, he requires close monitoring and has to do an ECG and visit the doctor every three months.
“I do have health insurance, but a lot of Jamaicans don’t have health insurance. I have no idea how they have managed, and we already have a situation where our hospitals are under pressure,” Chin Tung said.
More than 480 people are currently hospitalised with COVID-19, but bed occupancy, inclusive of suspected cases, has topped 680.
Chin Tung is now fully vaccinated and is taking the necessary precautions to avoid reinfection.
President of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), Dr Brian James, said his association is significantly concerned, as part of the problem with long-haul COVID-19 is that it is not very well defined.
“People are still trying to establish exactly what are the effects and also what are the effects relative to the different variants,” said James, suggesting that there might be variance in the incidence of long-haul COVID depending on Delta or Omicron infection.
“It almost has to be a retrospective look at it for us to know,” James theorised.
The MAJ president said further that the range of variables presents grave uncertainty if there is significant impact on Jamaica’s health services.
“There is evidence that it is less severe generally and, therefore, we can always hope that the long-haul symptoms will be less severe, too,” James said.
Meanwhile, president of the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ), Patsy Edwards-Henry, told The Gleaner that she is “waiting with trepidation” to see the impact long-haul COVID-19 will have on Jamaicans.
The president said she was very concerned about children, as COVID-19 presents as a multi-system infection in their bodies – affecting primarily the lungs and other organs such as the heart.
“We are looking at how our healthcare system is going to be affected 10 or 15 years down the line when people start to have complications from COVID-19. We don’t have enough research now to say what some of these complications are,” she said.
Edwards-Henry added that a number of nurses who contracted COVID-19 in the first, second, or third waves are being reinfected in this the fourth wave.
“Those who are being reinfected are the ones that have comorbidities, especially asthma and respiratory challenges, so we have a number of nurses who are out. We are concerned about what happens to the respiratory system and other systems after one has been severely impacted by COVID-19,” Edwards-Henry said.