New data from patients who have contracted Covid shows that even asymptomatic infection increases their risk of heart disease (one study indicating a 50% increase) within a year.
Another large study involving 181,000 patients also showed an increased risk of diabetes.
“We have to think long term and prevent every infection,” said Professor Salim Abdool Karim. The former co-chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19 said it was essential for people to understand how new medical knowledge about Covid is changing the way we think about the virus.
“We cannot project ourselves into the future of this pandemic and just say ‘let the virus spread’. We need public health awareness. Vaccines must become an essential requirement,” he said. he declares.
While it is estimated, based on seroprevalence surveys, that around 80-85% of South Africans have been infected at some point since the start of the pandemic, Abdool Karim said the new data on sequelae of Covid make it essential that those who have not been infected are protected.
He added that re-infection with the virus, for those who had previously contracted it, was possible mainly due to Omicron’s “cunning” BA.5 subvariant, but new studies show that this too greatly increased the risk for the health.
Abdool Karim explained that reinfection increases the risks of other diseases like diabetes and heart disease each time it occurs, as well as the risk of fatigue, gastrointestinal diseases, kidney problems, mental health , muscular and skeletal diseases and lung diseases.
“This increased risk of heart disease occurs regardless of the severity of Covid symptoms,” explained Abdool Karim.
“It’s going to change the practice of medicine,” he said. “Before, we hadn’t thought of Covid as a chronic disease… At first, we thought of it as an acute infection. This is how we understood it in 2021 and 2022. This is no longer the case.
He explained that new data on infections caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus show that it is not a respiratory disease.
“It causes disease from head to toe,” he said. “It mainly enters through the respiratory tract,” he added, “but Covid-19 is more than just acute symptoms.”
He clarified that the sentence was not his, but that his colleagues were referring to the “long Covid tsunami” which will hit the health system.
Other long-term effects of Covid infections include severe impact on the brain. Results of a large study in the UK, where patients have follow-up brain scans to measure the effect of aging on the brain, have shown that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 – even if they don’t didn’t know it – lost some of their gray matter.
“The brains of infected people are smaller. They lose 1% to 2% of their gray matter,” said Abdool Karim. “It makes them less able to perform complex tasks.”
He said American scientists had made similar discoveries while studying elite soccer players. The data produced by their study showed that the performance of these athletes was significantly impacted by Covid infections compared to those who did not have the disease.
He said South Africa should have introduced a vaccination mandate a long time ago because, as well as offering personal protection, the latest research shows vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus to others. if they are infected.
Abdool Karim said it also appears that getting vaccinated can ease the symptoms of long Covid. “But it’s still early days. We need more evidence,” he added.
Abdool Karim has filed an affidavit in the upcoming lawsuit between several civil rights organizations and Health Minister Joe Phaahla over the legality of public health restrictions, including mask mandates, which were enacted in May but withdrawn in June.
Describing the nature of the disease, he states in his affidavit: “It is a disease which can affect almost any part of the body. It may be a silent asymptomatic infection or a clinical illness.
“While the elderly and those with comorbid conditions are at higher risk of severe acute illness, hospitalization and death, anyone infected, especially those who are not vaccinated, is at high risk of several medical conditions affecting the whole body, from head to toe.
“The risk of acute disease combined with the long-term risks of long Covid – and the increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and neurological disease – provides a compelling reason why preventing infection is essential. Even if only a fraction of infections are averted, it could prevent long-term debilitating illnesses and premature deaths.
“The pandemic is not over. It is important to note that, globally, there were on average over 274,000 SARS-CoV-2 cases and around 1,000 Covid deaths each day in June 2022.
“The world is still in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the virus continuing to mutate, creating new variants as it spreads across the globe,” Karim said.
He outlined five reasons why the virus should not be allowed to spread unhindered:
- This could cause more new infections and reinfections;
- He will see an increased risk of acute illness and death, particularly when the virus spreads to someone at risk, such as someone over 60;
- Longer more people will develop Covid;
- More people will be at risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and long-term neurological disorders;
- This will increase the chances of new variants emerging, as the virus can only mutate during replication.
“In early 2020, before vaccines were available, a group of scientists came up with the Great Barrington Declaration, which recommended that the virus simply be allowed to spread within the community, with measures to protect people. elderly.
“This approach has been completely discredited and countries that have tried versions of it, such as Sweden, have suffered significant numbers of deaths,” he continued.
While vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent Covid, Abdool Karim said wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings and poorly ventilated indoor environments also remain ways to avoid getting infected or re-infected. by the virus.
He added that a study published in June 2022 in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesprovided compelling evidence that masks work – and do work in many different contexts across six continents.
“Although not as effective as vaccines in preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, masks have the protective benefits of slowing viral transmission and reducing the number of people infected,” he said. added.
“There is also evidence that masks work in South Africa.
“The use of masks in 2020 and 2021 contributed to the absence of influenza transmission during the country’s usual winter ‘flu’ season in both years.
“Masks have also reduced the spread of other respiratory pathogens in South Africa, such as respiratory syncytial virus.” SM/MC