Samuel Lagercrantz: A special kind of hellishness afflicts post-COVID patients

In addition to the disease itself those suffering from post-COVID have to deal with people who try to label them as hypochondriacs, writes Samuel Lagercrantz in an editorial.

There is plenty to worry about these days: terrorist threats, climate change and Vladimir Putin’s vicious war of aggression against Ukraine.

Should we also worry about the new variants of SARS-CoV-2 that are now spreading? Excessive worry is rarely a good thing, but with that said, we should be alert to the new variants. Today, we are much better prepared for serious acute illness than we were when the pandemic broke out in 2020. Antiviral medicines are available, and, above all, a large part of the population has basic protection from vaccines that can be expected to provide some protection against mutated subgroups of SARS-CoV-2. Nevertheless, it is still a dangerous disease, especially for people in the risk groups.

Nor should we ignore the threat posed by post-COVID. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as many as 36 million people in Europe alone may have been affected by different types of long-term conditions after being infected with COVID-19.

People with post-COVID are faced with a special kind of hellishness because, in addition to the disease itself, they have to deal with people who try to label them as hypochondriacs. This attitude is incomprehensible to me.

All researchers in the upper division assume that post-COVID is linked to COVID-19, as do leading doctors.

However, when post-COVID appeared in 2020, a group of doctors made up their minds from the very beginning that long-term symptoms from COVID-19 are psychological problems with no link to physical illness. Obviously, no patients should have to see these doctors, and hopefully, they are not so numerous today. Their ideas are being promoted in the media by Hanne Kjöller, an independent columnist on the editorial page of Dagens Nyheter, who most recently raged against the Swedish government’s decision to commission the National Board of Health and Welfare to establish a national knowledge centre for post-COVID and other conditions that may occur after infections.

There is a lot we do not know about post-COVID. The disease produces a spectrum of various symptoms with varying degrees of severity. As I have previously stated, the fact that an illness also affects people psychologically is not at all surprising, and this applies not only to long-term COVID but also to devastating illnesses such as cancer. However, the fact that an illness causes psychological suffering does not mean it lacks somatic causes. To conclude that 10,000s of Swedes and millions of people around the world have suddenly developed psychological problems that make them feel physically unwell after falling ill with COVID-19 is, to put it mildly, a sign of ignorance, especially since we still know as little as we do about post-COVID.

“Even though we don’t have a clear biomedical explanation at this point, it doesn’t mean there is none, which is why we need more research in this field,” said Marcus Buggert, an award-winning immunologist on X, formerly Twitter. The comment was made in response to Hanne Kjöller’s latest outburst against COVID-19, in which she stated for the umpteenth time that post-COVID is in the head of the affected person.

Marcus Buggert’s statement may seem obvious, but it is not clear to everyone, which is particularly unfortunate in cases when doctors or other healthcare professionals cannot make the obvious conclusion.

Artikeln är en del av vårt tema om News in English.

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