What after-effects can follow an infection?

This is part 62 of our coronavirus FAQ. Click here to read other installments: #Coronavirus the facts. Find the latest information and answers from experts on everything COVID-19.

Some patients report after-effects, but the specifics remain unclear

Patients around the world have reported after-effects that linger months after they have tested negative and been discharged from hospital. Many people claim to suffer fever, fatigue, and diminished respiratory or mobility functions, and these symptoms often become obstacles to daily life.

NHK survey finds wide range of after-effects

NHK surveyed medical institutions designated to treat infectious diseases and university hospitals in Tokyo about the condition of coronavirus patients after the completion of treatment. Eighteen of 46 institutions responded.

As of the end of May, 1,370 people at the facilities had tested negative and been discharged or moved to other hospitals after their symptoms improved. At least 98 of them, or about 7%, had lingering effects that impacted their everyday lives.

About half, 47 people, reportedly suffered from diminished respiratory functions due to the lingering effects of pneumonia. Six of these patients were forced to use oxygen inhalation devices at home.

Forty-six people said they lost muscle strength or suffered from a decline in mobility functions due to their lengthy hospital stays. Twenty-seven people had diminished cognitive abilities due to old age and other factors.

In some cases, patients reported symptoms that appear to reflect an abnormal sense of smell and higher brain dysfunction. Many people with these after-effects had suffered serious coronavirus cases and had been treated with ventilators or ECMO machines.

One institute that responded to the survey noted that some patients required a high level of nursing care even after testing negative, and that a surge in such cases could overwhelm the healthcare system. The respondent said an exit strategy that takes into account issues of elderly people is necessary.

Another facility called for efforts to raise awareness about the various after-effects that some coronavirus patients face and widen support networks.

Some patients suffer hair loss

A team of researchers at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine carried out a survey of coronavirus patients who recovered and were discharged from hospital. It found that some people complained of shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, even four months after recovering. Some even reported hair loss.

Hair loss has also been reported among people who recovered from Ebola and dengue fever. Dr. Morioka Shinichiro, a member of the team that carried out the survey, says this could be a result of the psychological stress from prolonged treatment.

Lung functions in some patients remain impaired long after recovery

Since September, the Japanese Respiratory Society has been conducting research into the deterioration of the lung function in coronavirus patients. It is asking doctors to report cases they encounter during the course of treatment.

Society chairman Yokoyama Akihito says there have been many reports around the world, including in Japan, of patients whose lung functions have not fully recovered after testing negative for the virus. He says he is yet to develop a full understanding of the situation, including what percentage of people infected suffer from such after-effects.

This information is accurate as of Nov. 10, 2020.