Signs of damage to multiple organs have been detected in young and previously healthy people four months after they were infected by Covid-19, according to research.
Preliminary data from the first 200 patients to undergo screening for the Coverscan study, which aims to assess the long-term impact of the virus on organ health in “low risk” individuals, has shown two-thirds have impairments in one or more organs including the heart, lungs, liver and pancreas.
“The good news is that the impairment is mild, but even with a conservative lens, there is some impairment, and in 25% of people it affects two or more organs,” Amitava Banerjee, a cardiologist and associate professor of clinical data science at University College London, told The Guardian newspaper.
“This is of interest because we need to know if [the impairments] continue or improve – or if there is a subgroup of people who could get worse.”
One third suffered damage to their lungs and 32% suffered damage to their heart. Impairment was present in the pancreas in 17% of patients, kidneys in 12%, the liver in 10% and 6% had evidence of an enlarged spleen.
Organ impairment was more common in those who had been hospitalised with Covid-19 than non-hospitalised individuals. Measures of inflammation in the kidneys and pancreas, and ectopic fat in the pancreas and liver, were also higher in hospitalised patients.
The average age of those who participated in this phase of the study was 44 and none of them were scanned before developing Covid-19, so it is not known whether they had some of the impairments identified before.
Meanwhile NHS England has announced the launch of more than 40 ‘long Covid’ specialist clinics to help the thousands of patients who were still enduring symptoms of the virus months after infection, following a pledge last month by chief executive Sir Simon Stevens.
Long Covid is thought to affect more than 60,000 people in the UK and can cause continuing fatigue, ‘brain fog’, breathlessness and pain, according to the NHS.
Ten sites for the specialist clinics have been earmarked for the Midlands, seven in the North East, six in the East of England, South West and South East respectively, five in London and three in the North West.
Referrals can be made through a patient’s GP or other healthcare professional.
Stevens said: “Long Covid is already having a very serious impact on many people’s lives and could well go on to affect hundreds of thousands.
“That is why, while treating rising numbers of patients who are sick with the virus and many more who do not have it, the NHS is taking action to address those suffering ongoing health issues.
“These pioneering ‘long Covid’ clinics will help address the very real problems being faced by patients today while the taskforce will help the NHS develop a greater understanding of the lasting effects of coronavirus.”