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Hallie Prescott
Hallie Prescott

Recovery After Severe COVID Infection Poses Unique Challenges

UM Health LabBlog 8/5/20

Across the country, intensive care units continue to fill with patients infected with COVID-19. It can be easy to forget in the influx of daily case counts that in each of those beds is a person fighting for their life, aided by a care team working under extraordinary circumstances. In hospitals everywhere, so much of the scene on COVID floors is abnormal: patients heavily sedated; healthcare providers trying to offer comfort while cloaked in stifling personal protective equipment; missing loved ones, who would normally sit vigil at a patients’ bedside, kept away by the threat of infection.

According to Michigan Medicine experts who have been studying the downstream effects of critical illness for years, the pandemic will have severe effects on the lives of those who are eventually discharged from the hospital.

“With the virus itself causing severe illness, combined with the challenges of delivering healthcare [for these patients] means that issues after severe COVID-19 may be multiplied, and the time to recovery longer,” says Hallie Prescott, M.D., assistant professor of pulmonary diseases and critical care medicine. She notes that existing studies of the aftermath of pneumonia, sepsis and acute respiratory distress syndrome offer clues to what awaits COVID patients. For example, says Prescott, most patients with these illnesses eventually recover their lung function.

Yet many patients report lingering weakness, exercise intolerance and reduced quality of life after an ICU stay. And with COVID, there are many unknowns. “Most studies look at patients up to a year after their illness. We haven’t had this around long enough to have those studies coming out.”

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