Director of the Department of Medical Examination and Treatment under the Ministry of Health Lương Ngọc Khuê spoke to Sức khỏe & Đời sống (Health & Life) newspaper about post-COVID-19 conditions and the ministry’s plan to deal with the issue
Can you please help us understand more about post-COVID-19 conditions?
In October 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially announced the concept of “post COVID-19”. Post COVID-19 condition is defined as the illness that occurs in people who have a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection; usually within three months from the onset of COVID-19, with symptoms and effects that last for at least two months. The symptoms and effects cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
People with post COVID-19 condition, also known as “long COVID”, may have difficulty functioning in everyday life. Their condition may affect their ability to perform daily activities such as work or household chores.
They suffer from mental health problems and can have significant economic consequences for themselves, their families and society.
In terms of mental health, after experiencing the pandemic disaster, having witnessed the impacts of the pandemic on themselves, their families and society, some people have experienced psychological trauma.
Therefore, patients may feel stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia and nervousness after COVID-19. Treatment practices and scientific studies have also recorded the same thing in patients with incurable diseases or in previous dangerous pandemics.
As for the physical health, some very common post-COVID-19 symptoms can include respiratory symptoms.
For example, at Bạch Mai Hospital, up to 50-60 per cent of COVID-19 patients have prolonged respiratory symptoms with damaged thorax, mild fever, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, hair loss, pulmonary fibrosis, heart palpitations, endocrine disorders, or hematologic thrombosis.
Many of them get digestive disorders, for example, loss of appetite, stomach pain, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, epigastric pain, taste or smell disturbances and rashes.
They have psychiatric symptoms such as psychological disturbances, decreased concentration, anxiety, depression, restlessness, sleep disturbances, forgetfulness, and inability to concentrate.
Some people get confused, have poor cognition abilities, slow reading, short-term memory loss, or mood swings.
Should all COVID-19 patients after recovering from the illness go to the doctor to see if they suffer from ‘Long COVID-19’?
Unlike some other post-pathological syndromes that tend to occur only in people who are already seriously ill, post-COVID-19 can happen to anyone who has had COVID-19, even those with mild illnesses.
Even during the disease, they have no symptoms, they can still have ‘Long COVID-19’ symptoms and it can appear at any age, including in children.
We have seen that patients with severe or critical COVID-19 that require a lot of medical intervention during the main treatment phase of the disease, and those with underlying medical conditions will have more severe post-COVID-19 problems.
People with underlying diseases and those with severe or critical COVID-19 cases, or the elderly need to seek medical care after COVID-19. People with mild, asymptomatic COVID-19 also need to see a doctor if the post-COVID-19 sequelae greatly affect their daily life and health. In particular, it should be emphasised that those who have a doctor’s appointment for follow-up after COVID-19 need to visit the doctor on time.
However, in many cases, although doctors make appointments for re-examination, the patients don’t come. Some even take drugs of unknown origin, which possibly makes their health worsen.
Has the Ministry of Health taken steps to prepare for the post-COVID-19 syndrome?
Currently, for the mental sequelae of patients, the ministry has assigned the Central Psychiatric Hospital to develop a specific protocol to guide doctors in treatment related symptoms.
The ministry also directed hospitals to give instructions and give exercises to help people practice rehabilitation. For example, the Central Lung Hospital will develop breathing exercises and pulmonary rehabilitation.
In fact, the ministry has also taken steps to prepare for the post-COVID-19 syndrome before. Specifically, the strategy of the Ministry of Health is that hospitals operate normally, and COVID-19 patients with underlying diseases in any specialty will be treated at that specialty.
During the first stage of the COVID-19 pandemic in Việt Nam, COVID-19 patients received treatment at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases.
However, now, according to the current strategy of the Ministry of Health, patients will be treated after COVID-19 at the same specialised hospitals that offer them COVID-19 treatment.
For example, COVID-19 patients with hypertension and cardiovascular diseases will be treated at a cardiovascular hospital, diabetic patients with COVID-19 will be transferred to an endocrinology hospital, and children will be treated at cardiovascular department of children’s hospitals.
Pregnant women may have post-COVID-19 problems related to obstetrics and gynaecology, so they just go back to the maternity hospital for a check-up. There’s no need to go to another hospital.
As for the fact that a few hospitals have set up specialised clinics to examine post-COVID-19 patients, I think it’s good, but not urgent. It is also impractical to set up a hospital specialising in post-COVID-19 treatment.
Post-COVID-19 is not scary. We will no longer be worried about it if we understand it well. According to the actual record of doctors, most of the post-COVID-19 complications are not dangerous or fatal, but mainly affect the daily life of the patients.
The reality of treatment shows that many cases have overcome common post-COVID-19 symptoms such as depression, insomnia, prolonged anxiety just by changing their thinking, practicing and rebalancing their mind. However, cases with underlying diseases should be re-examined.
It is necessary to strongly advise people that if there experience post-COVID-19 symptoms that affect their daily life, they need to go to a medical facility. People should not use drugs of unknown origin of the drugs that are not approved by the health authorities. — VnExpress News
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