Introduction: the perennial pandemic: There are serious challenges posed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 as the disease. With the persistence of the pandemic over one and half year, it is being feared that the COVID-19 may have become the new reality associated with human existence world over and the mankind may have to live with it for years or even decades. Further, the grievous nature of the disease is evolving further with genomic changes in the virus in form of mutations and evolution of variants, with enhanced infectivity and probably virulence.
Acute and chronic phases of COVID-19: Epidemiologically, it is becoming clear that apart from the advanced age and pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular, pulmonary, and renal diseases, certain constituent factors render some patients more vulnerable to more severe forms of the disease. These factors influence the COVID-19 manifestations, its course, and later the convalescence period as well as the newly defined ‘Long COVID phase. The substantial continuing morbidity after resolution of the infection indicates persisting multisystem effects of ‘Long Covid’.
Lung damage associated with COVID-19: COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease presenting with a broad spectrum of respiratory tract involvement ranging from mild upper airway affliction to progressive life-threatening viral pneumonia and respiratory failure. It affects the respiratory system in various ways across the spectrum of disease severity, depending on age, immune status, and comorbidities. The symptoms may be mild, such as cough, shortness of breath and fevers, to severe and critical disease, including respiratory failure, shock, cytokine crisis, and multi-organ failure.
Implications for the post-COVID care: Depending on the severity of respiratory inflammation and damage, as well as associated comorbidities, duration of injury and genetics, the progressive fibrosis leads to constriction and compression of lung tissues and damage to pulmonary microvasculature. Consequently, the COVID-19 patients with moderate/severe symptoms are likely to have a significant degree of long-term reduction in lung function. Depending on the severity of the disease, extensive and long-lasting damage to the lungs can occur, which may persist after resolution of the infection.
Managing the long COVID’s challenges: Given global scale of the pandemic, the healthcare needs for patients with sequelae of COVID-19, especially in those with lung affliction are bound to increase in the near future. The challenge can be tackled by harnessing the existing healthcare infrastructure, development of scalable healthcare models and integration across various disciplines with a combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological modalities. Following clinical and investigational assessment, the therapeutic strategy should depend on the disease manifestations, extent of damage in lungs and other organs, and associated complications.
Introduction - evolution of SARS-CoV-2 variants: With the unrestrained pandemic for over last one-and-half year, SARS-CoV-2 seems to have adapted to its habitat, the human host, through mutations that facilitate its replication and transmission. The G variant incorporating D614G mutation, potently more transmissible than the ancestral virus arose during January 2020 and spread widely. Since then, various SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern (VOCs) and variants of interest (VOIs) with higher infectivity or virulence or both, have evolved on the background of G variant, and spread widely.
SARS-CoV-2 infection and the immunodynamics: As the virus becomes more transmissible, its lethality may drop. Apart from the humoral immunity, T-cell recognition from a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection or vaccination may modify the disease transmission correlates and its clinical manifestations. On the other hand, the immunity generated may reduce probability of re-infection as well as limit evolution of adaptive mutations, and emergence of highly infectious and immune-escape variants. There are complex issues related to the SARS-CoV-2 evolutionary dynamics and host’s immunodynamics.
Trending etiopathoimmunological correlates: The evolution potential of SARS-CoV-2 is limited because of proofreading function of nsp14. The S protein mutations affect transmissibility, virulence, and vaccine efficacy. The D614G mutation in G variant with higher infectivity has turned the Chinese epidemic into a pandemic. Other SARS-CoV-2 variants, such as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta seem to have evolved as result of adaptation to selective pressures during periods of prolonged infections and subsequent transmission. Further, there is issue of convergent association of mutations.
Basics of immunity and immune system failure: The nature of the immune response after natural SARS-CoV-2 infection is variable and diverse. There are pre-existing neutralizing antibodies and sensitized T cells elicited during previous infection with seasonal CoVs influencing the disease susceptibility and course. The virus has evolved adaptive mechanisms to reduce its exposure to IFN-I and there are issues related to erratic and overactive immune response. The altered neutralizing epitopes in the S protein in SARS-CoV-2 variants modify the immune landscapes and clinical manifestations.
Conclusion: current scenarios and prospects: Presently, the SARS-CoV-2 infection is widespread with multiple evolving infectious variants. There is probability of its transition from epidemic to endemic phase in due course manifesting as a mild disease especially in the younger population. Conversely, the pandemic may continue with enhanced disease severity due to evolving variants, expanded infection pool, and changing immunity landscape. There is need to plan for the transition and continued circulation of the virus during the endemic phase or continuing pandemic for indefinite period.
Introduction - the perennial pandemic: It is being increasingly realised that the COVID-19 may have become the new reality associated with human existence world over and the mankind may have to live with it for years or even decades. Further, the grievous nature of the disease is evolving further with the genomic changes in the virus in form of mutations and evolution of variants, with enhanced infectivity and probably virulence. There are serious challenges posed by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 as the disease.
COVID-19 as acute and chronic disease: On exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, not all patients develop a disease. Further, for those who develop the disease, there is a large variation in disease severity. The known factors including the constituent factors and several still unknown factors influence the disease manifestations, its course, and later the convalescent phase as well. In fact, substantial continuing morbidity after resolution of the infection indicates persisting multisystem effects of COVID-19.
The ‘long COVID-19’ or ‘long haulers’: The patients who continue to suffer with persisting symptoms have been described as long haulers and the clinical condition has been called post-COVID-19 or ‘long COVID-19’. The diagnosis should be entertained if various symptoms and signs linger well beyond the period of convalescence in COVID-19. With the chronicity, there occur inflammatory changes and damage in various organs, and the extent of organ damage determines the long-term effects.
Management of ‘long COVID’ syndrome: The ‘long COVID’ syndrome has multi-system involvement, variable presentation, and unpredictable course. Following clinical and investigational assessment, the patients should be managed as per clinical manifestations, extent of organ damage and associated complications. The findings from various studies indicate that preventing further organ damage in ‘long COVID’ is crucial.
The long COVID’s prognostic challenges: As apparent, the ‘long COVID’ afflictions are more common than realized earlier. The symptoms can escalate in patients with co-morbid conditions. The persistent symptoms among COVID-19 survivors pose new challenges to the healthcare providers and may be suitably managed with a combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments, and holistic healthcare.
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