Pandemic: Post Covid: When Corona just won't go away

She has pain when showering, clothes on her skin is almost unbearable.

Pandemic: Post Covid: When Corona just won't go away

She has pain when showering, clothes on her skin is almost unbearable. "It was like getting needle pricks on my head," says the post-Covid patient. A corona infection had severe long-term consequences for Silvana Heller-Scheunemann – just like for many other people in Germany. If the corona numbers now rise again with the growing autumn wave, Post Covid could also continue to increase.

Cognitive limitations are typical of Post Covid. Heller-Scheunemann, who is currently undergoing therapy at the Seehof rehabilitation center in Teltow, Brandenburg, suddenly noticed memory gaps after her illness in February 2022. "I couldn't remember where to go," says the 50-year-old. "I couldn't write properly, sometimes mirrored letters came onto the paper. That was very scary, also because the first thought naturally came: 'Can I do my job like this?'"

Up to 15 percent affected

The German Medical Association published a statement on the post-Covid syndrome on Tuesday. According to this, up to 15 percent of those infected with corona later also suffer from post-Covid symptoms. Heller-Scheunemann's illness severely disrupted her normal life. She actually works as a department head, but the illness made her unable to work for several months. "I knew I couldn't go to work like this. You can't work as a high-performing manager if you don't have all these skills."

Striking: Post-Covid patients with a high school diploma or university degree come to the Teltower Klinik again and again - this is comparatively less often the case in other patient groups. This is also surprising for the medical director of the rehabilitation center. Volker Köllner combines his work as a doctor with research into the disease. Köllner says: "I haven't seen in 30 years of research that there is actually such a huge difference in the level of education between patient groups, as in the post-Covid study."

Köllner reports that people with mentally demanding jobs in particular suffer from concentration disorders. "For example, a teacher comes and tells us that she always forgets certain vocabulary and is standing at the blackboard and she can't think of the word," says the doctor. Corresponding limitations were then actually proven in the cognitive testing - often to a surprisingly clear extent.

Women often lack recovery time

Women are overly affected by Post Covid. "On the one hand, this can have hormonal and immunological reasons," says Köllner. The other point is that women are more often in the double burden of having families and are less able to take a break than men, which would actually do them good after the infection.

How do women deal with this? Post-Covid patient Silke Wichmann has developed strategies for dealing with the deficits. "I took breaks and said when I was shopping or hanging up the laundry, I can't do it anymore today, and then someone else has to do it," says the 52-year-old. After her corona disease in April 2021, she noticed various symptoms such as shortness of breath and difficulty concentrating.

In the meantime, Wichmann is coping properly with her illness - thanks to the help in the clinic. She feels that she is being taken seriously here, and that she gets back on her feet with a lot of exercise. "Well, I'm fine, but I know very well that this amount of exercise is not feasible in everyday life," says Wichmann.

Doctors and therapists have learned a lot since the outbreak of the pandemic more than two years ago. There was uncertainty for a long time, especially when it came to movement. Does it end up harming patients? For Doctor Köllner, exercise therapy has become a key element of treatment. "The vast majority of post-Covid patients benefit from well-dosed endurance training and exercise therapy," says the doctor.

The German Society for Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine is decisive for the correct treatment of post-Covid patients. This has issued a recommendation in which they urgently advise exercise therapy.

Sport is on the daily program at the clinic in Teltow. Silvana Heller-Scheunemann sits on a stool in the small gym. In a circle with her other patients. Together they imitate the exercises of the trainer. Put your arm over your head, then squat.

If Doctor Köllner could wish for something for those affected by post-Covid, it would be easy to set up and accessible exercise offers. "This would allow us to reach people who are at their family doctor's and who say: 'I notice that it's still so exhausting and I'm worried and I get bad breath,'" says Köllner.

Climbing stairs in rehab

The Deutsche Rentenversicherung Bund is also in favor of complex treatments. Her director for rehabilitation, Brigitte Gross, underlines the importance: "If, for example, the heart only has a limited pumping function after corona disease, rehabilitation begins with dosed endurance training, for example to enable climbing stairs again." Under the umbrella of the pension insurance, around 10,000 rehabilitation measures for the consequences of Corona were carried out in 2021. On average, patients stay in rehab for 26 days.

Science and the medical profession have recently been asked to pay more attention to the late consequences of corona disease. Many consider the topic to be underestimated. After the increase in corona infections in autumn and winter, the post-Covid numbers could also rise again. The German Medical Association expects that with the dynamics of the pandemic, the findings on post-Covid will also change and sometimes be overtaken again and again.

According to the doctor Köllner, the growing experience of the population with Corona is positive overall. People are "significantly more immunocompetent," says Köllner. "Now we have had two and a half years to deal with the virus." From the point of view of the Post Covid expert, however, the following applies: Corona should not be taken lightly and one must remain very vigilant. Köllner: "I don't think it's likely, but it's possible that there will be a more aggressive, i.e. more dangerous, more deadly variant."

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