By : Abhinav Malhotra, Associate Editor-ICN World
Insights to Covid-19 and its Health impact
In the words of Ed Yong, a science journalist,
“We long to return to normal but Normal led to this”
As Yong rightly mentions, our model of accelerating into the future comprising of increased deforestation, intensive animal farming & unsystematic urbanization has been known to increase the risk of Zoonotic viruses entering humans and spreading with alarming ease. Here we are talking about the latest virus that has disrupted life around the globe, named Covid-19.
A Brief History of the Virus before we jump into the intricacies and the corollary.
It was 1965 when our Scientists first identified the human coronavirus which caused the common cold. The one that causes SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) emerged in southern China in 2002. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses announced “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” as the name of the virus on 11 February 2020. This name was chosen because the virus was genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of the year 2003.
India was approaching its financial year-end when on the 24th Of March the tables turned. A nationwide lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi for 21 days, as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the virus. Uncertainty gripped the nation. The financial year certainly culminated, but the virus and accompanied lockdowns saw no end. As of now, it has been roughly 17 months with over 20 crore cases reported around the globe with India’s share being more than 3 crores. With the horrendous figures being stated here, it can be understood that the impact of this calamity demands research that goes beyond estimations and rigid parameters.
Here in this article we will ponder on issues that patients faced during and post Covid along with a topic that has been hogging the limelight in the recent past having a direct relation with this horrific virus i.e. Mental Health. The exacerbating factor here is the ignorance of this form of Health parameter in the past and its distortion even today.
The following image has been sourced from Google Trends where Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term. Time Range has been taken from 1st March 2020 to 1st September 2021 and Region is India. The trend clearly shows how people in the country were searching for Depression and related symptoms specifically during May & June 2020 when lockdowns were imposed all around.
The image below depicts the additional terms searched along with depression where Scoring is on a relative scale. Value of 100 is the most commonly searched query, 50 is a query searched half as often as the most popular query, and so on.
The figures stated above surely deserve much more attention than being currently received.
Now we will throw light on the opinions/views of Doctors of a few specialties who voluntarily came ahead to give their views on how they tackled the 2 waves of Covid-19 and how the mental health of patients was always a matter of concern.
Psychiatrists: The torchbearers of mental health conveyed mind-boggling accounts of patients who walked into their clinics after recovering from Covid-19. Dr. Himanshu Gupta a Senior Psychiatrist practicing in the Brass city of India i.e. Moradabad, went on to explicate the intricacies of the same. He explained that Patients who were admitted to hospitals had to be kept in isolation with absolutely no social contact for a bare minimum of 14 days where the fear of health deterioration constantly loomed over their heads. Humans as rightly referred to as Social Animals tend to mingle and socialize with peers and even acquaintances regularly. 14 days or more was a long enough gap to be isolated from the social world.
Second, came the case of patients who had lost their near and dear ones due to Covid-19. It became an unprecedented situation for them as the deaths comprised of the younger generation too. Anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal were some of the common symptoms noted.
Studies in recent decades stressed the importance of psychological balance and mental health on the immunity of our bodies. Psychoneuroimmunology studies indicated that thoughts and emotional patterns, and psychological dynamics are strongly interrelated with the immune response. One recent study on mice suggested a connection between stress, depression, and immune function. In this study, mice who were repeatedly exposed to stress developed an immune response that released inflammatory proteins into the system. This inflammation caused impaired responses in a part of the brain, which in turn lead to common depressive behaviours. This chain reaction is highly suggestive of a cause-and-effect relationship linking stress, immune function, and depression.
Hence it can be concluded that excessive stress tends to weaken the immune response of the body that fights various infections and diseases. To elaborate, during these unprecedented times a person with a strong sense of emotional wellbeing and up to the mark mental health will most likely be more prepared to fight the deadly virus (if infected) as compared to the one who exhibits deteriorated mental health. Trying not to be a fuss-budget will surely help.
Neurologists: Dr. Vikas Sharma, Consultant Neurologist in Amritsar gave insights regarding the increase in the number of patients with “Text Necks” and lower back pains along with numbness in hands & legs since the pandemic began. Fatigue and Brain Fog (sluggishness and lack of sharpness) were among other ailments noticed in many patients. He explained that these symptoms portend bad news. Due to increased exposure to gadgets and faulty postures, while working from home, the younger generation was impacted the most. As schools and coaching classes went online, children had increased access to Mobiles, Tablets, and Laptops. Parents were left with no choice but to provide their children with all basic gadgets to support their academics.
Dr. Vikas explained that until this pandemic ends and offline becomes the “New Norm”, parents need to be extremely vigilant and motivate their children to focus on physical activities along with their curriculum. He also emphasized that digital addictions and “digital pleasures” will eventually lead to increased anxiety and depression cases in the long run and hence demand immediate attention.
General Physicians: It was an epiphanic moment for Physicians, where they observed that the majority of patients under their observation exhibited generalized anxiety while being treated for Covid-19. The fear and restlessness in their patients were a direct result of the melancholic atmosphere around them. Dr. S Sarpal, a prominent physician from Mohali, Punjab also stated that just like Gastroenterologists, they had many patients who went in for self-medication including Kadha’s, and had developed fistula/piles problems. The reluctance to visit the Doctor was prominent as patients themselves admitted their fear of reaching out to a doctor and being diagnosed with Covid-19.
Dermatologists: As per the observations made by Dr. Pallavi Kashyap a Senior Dermatologist & Cosmetologist in the city of Patna, the following ailments were noticed in patients post Covid recovery: Diffuse Hair loss, Discoloration of nails, Urticaria (Hives) & Myalgia. She went on to mention that extreme stress in her female patients led to disruption in their Menstrual Cycles too. While emphasizing the importance of being mentally strong in these tough times, she explained that the patients with strong mental wellbeing and willpower exhibited swifter recoveries.
Gastroenterologists: As per the views presented by Dr. Harneet Singh, a leading Gastroenterologist from Chandigarh, it was observed that patients visited him for complaints ranging from abdominal discomfort to fistula/piles accompanied with generalized anxiety. As the Doctor went on to explain, patients who felt even the mildest of discomfort in the throat went in for self-medication where they consumed medicines as suggested to them by local pharmacies and overconsumed homemade Kadha’s (Traditional drink made with various herbs and spices). When discussed in length as to why the patient did not report to them in the initial stage, the Doctor explained that the patient was afraid of being diagnosed with Covid-19. The very thought of him catching this deadly disease made him consume irrational medicines and overconsume popular kadha’s which inevitably led to Gastrointestinal ailments and allied issues.
The complaints of Irritable Bowel Syndrome had a direct relationship with the stress developed by patient’s overtime who were infected with Corona Virus.
Thus it was inferred by Dr.Harneet that fear had grappled the bloke which certainly impacted their mental peace and led to illegitimate decisions like self-medication & irrational home remedies. Heart Palpitations and anxiousness in patients were a direct result of the threat that they felt due to the virus.
Hence to conclude, the experiences of each Doctor have a different story to tell. Researchers need to engage broadly across communities to understand and comprehend the exact risk factors for Patients who recovered from Covid-19. “Long Covid, a situation where symptoms continue for over 12 weeks after initial infection has also cropped up in various parts of the globe. There has been much debate as to when the virus will die its natural death, but no amount of clairvoyance seems to be working.
We as responsible citizens need to be jabbed and keep our protective gears on. To keep ourselves mentally strong, Yoga, meditation & Daily physical activity is recommended by all health professionals. Alacrity and optimism are the need of the hour. Needless to mention, the impacts of this pandemic stand beyond estimations and numeric, but the brighter side must not be ignored.
Here I end this article with a quote from Mr. Shashi Tharoor which relates to the present situation we stand in.
“The past is not necessarily a guide to the future, but it does partly help explain the present.”
Disclaimer: This article contains information gathered from various sources as mentioned above. This article has been penned for informative purposes, with no intention of provocation. The author does not accept liability for any errors, omissions, or damage resulting from the use of this article or the facts therein.