Beware of fake Covid advice -- even from the govt

Beware of fake Covid advice -- even from the govt

A person in Bangkok isolates at home after recovering from Covid-19. Doctors have warned patients of post-recovery symptoms, or so-called Long Covid. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
A person in Bangkok isolates at home after recovering from Covid-19. Doctors have warned patients of post-recovery symptoms, or so-called Long Covid. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

The Ministry of Public Health is sending the wrong message about Long Covid -- officially known as Post-Acute Sequelae of Sars-CoV-2 post-Covid condition, or PASC.

While key health and medical science organisations around the world as well as many countries including the US and the UK are worrying over it, the Ministry of Public Health -- a key agency in disease prevention -- shows its misunderstanding of the science around Long Covid. It is sending an over-reassuring message that breeds a false sense of security.

The ministry recently posted a social media message that said Long Covid is caused by accumulated stress.

This isn't true. There are many causes that precipitate Long Covid. Yet the bulk of the evidence points to the cause as a post-viral immune disorder.

By describing it as an outcome of "stress", the ministry blocks awareness of the real problem, and undermines healthcare workers' attempts to help find solutions.

Despite the ministry's figures that 15-20% of Covid patients have been affected by Long Covid, there is no serious nor systematic effort to research the symptoms and find any solution to deal with it.

The Public Health Ministry's Thai Ru Su Covid Facebook page and Twitter (@ThaiMoPH) on Monday shared a post on Long Covid. Both the text and infographic says: "The Department of Disease Control reveals Long Covid can happen 1-3 months after getting the virus; although no virus is found, some symptoms persist.

"[Long Covid] can be found in 30-50% of the patients especially in those with severe symptoms.

"[Long Covid] can have various symptoms such as fever, headache, decreased taste or smell, shortness of breath, muscle pain, fatigue; mostly caused by accumulated stress.

Patients are advised to see the doctor."

The post simply reminds readers to wear masks, keep social distancing and wash their hands, to fight Covid.

Although the link directed readers to a full article on Long Covid at the DDC's website that gave more details, the article posted on Sept 16 still asserts, falsely, that stress, age, sex and underlying conditions are the key factors for post-Covid symptoms.

It also suggested that Long Covid could be a result of the drugs used to treat Covid, and warns that patients who have recovered could be infected again, so they should remain on guard.

Meanwhile, the article failed to point out the direct link between infection and Long Covid, or discuss what we have learned over the past 20 months about Covid pathology and how infections alone affect the body in the long run, as other agencies around the world are doing.

To show how medical scientists worldwide are viewing Long Covid, may we give some examples: The World Health Organization has warned that Covid-19 could cause long-term health problems, which may persist beyond 12 weeks after recovery. In some cases, it said, the problems can be severe enough to interfere with daily activities.

To better understand the condition, the United States' National Institutes of Health (NIH) in February launched a US$470 million (15.6 billion baht) study under the "Research Covid to Enhance Recovery", or Recover, programme.

Earlier this month, the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology published a study which found an increased risk of kidney problems in the post-acute phase of the disease.

The medical journal The Lancet called Long Covid "a modern medical challenge of the first order".

MRI brain scans in a UK Biobank study showed a significant reduction in grey matter in certain parts of the brain, even mild cases of Covid-19, which can lead to brain damage. The Great British Intelligence Test found a significant cognitive deficit for people who had had Covid compared to people that hadn't.

Among various studies, scientists are examining how the virus could be reprogramming the human immune system, and how it can invade and live in neural tissue leading to brain damage.

Researchers at University of Texas Health Science Centre at San Antonio are studying patients, trying to understand why their cognitive problems persist for a long time after getting Covid-19 and whether their brains have been changed in ways that elevate the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

As far as they know, dementia occured to ex-Covid patients at various ages, not only seniors.

Apart from that, research showed that Long Covid can be found in both adults and children, and in both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients.

Among other studies, a national matched cohort study in the UK found children and young adults could have mild or no symptoms of Covid-19 initially but develop new and more severe symptoms after three months.

The Department of Disease Control, the Ministry of Public Health and the government as a whole needs to realise how serious the issue is and make sure people get the correct information.

Although researchers worldwide accept that many more studies are needed on Long Covid, the government needs to look into the results of research which already show the long-term impacts on patients.

At the very least, government agencies must encourage people to take precautions, not to underestimate the symptoms.

The government needs to address how it has encouraged some Thais to misunderstand the situation, and act before it is too late.

ML Rangsithorn Bhanubandh is spokesperson of Zero COVID Thailand -- an information resource that promotes accurate science-based communication to eliminate Covid-19 in Thailand.

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