Thousands of Dutch Covid-19 patients likely have permanent lung damage, doctor says

Thousands of Netherlands residents who recovered from Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, may be left with permanent damage to their lungs, resulting in decreased capacity and more difficulty absorbing oxygen, Leon van den Toorn, pulmonologist chairman of the Dutch association of physicians for pulmonary disease and tuberculosis NVALT, said to newspaper AD.

Many people underestimate the consequences of the coronavirus Van den Toorn said to the newspaper. The virus and the body's response to it can cause permanent damage to the lungs, he said. "In severe cases, a kind of scar formation occurs, we call this lung fibrosis. The lungs shrink and the lung tissue becomes stiffer, making it harder to get enough oxygen."

Van den Toorn expects that "there may be thousands of people in the Netherlands who suffered permanent injury to the lungs from corona". Of the 1,200 Covid-19 patients who so far recovered after admission to intensive care, "almost 100 percent went home with residual damage", he said to AD. And about half of the 6 thousand people who were hospitalized, but did not need intensive care, will have symptoms for years to come. 

So far 45,500 people in the Netherlands tested positive for the coronavirus. Many did not get sick enough to need hospital care. In this group, Van den Toorn expects that permanent problems will be less serious, but still possible. 

According to Van den Toorn, recovered coronavirus patients who continue to suffer from shortness of breath after a few weeks, or who have a severely reduced exercise capacity, should go see a lung doctor. "There may be a low oxygen level in the blood, which is harmful to the body."

Van de Toorn said the NVALT wants to avoid making the same mistakes with coronavirus that were made with Q fever, an infectious disease that broke out in 2007 and lasted until 2011. Hundreds of people still suffer from serious health problems as a result of Q fever. Prime Minister mark Rutte apologized to them on behalf of the Dutch government in 2017. 

"People with a history of corona infection should be monitored closely to see if recovery is complete," Van de Toorn warned. The Dutch Lung Fund is setting up a platform to do just that.