People who fully recover from the coronavirus can be left with '20 to 30%' less lung function, and gasping for breath when they walk quickly, Hong Kong doctors find

  • People who recover from the coronavirus can still be left with substantially reduced lung functions, Hong Kong Hospital Authority have found after observing the first wave of discharged patients.

Coronavirus Hong Kong Hong Mei House
Health workers in protective gear at Cheung Hong Estate in Hong Kong in February 2020.

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People who recover from the novel coronavirus can still be left with substantially weakened lung capacity, with some left gasping for air when walking quickly, doctors in Hong Kong have found.

The Hong Kong Hospital Authority made the findings after studying the first wave of patients that were discharged from the hospital and had fully recovered from COVID-19.

Out of 12 people in the group, two to three saw changes in their lung capacity.

"They gasp if they walk a bit more quickly," Dr Owen Tsang Tak-yin, medical director of the authority's Infectious Disease Centre, told a press conference Thursday, according to the South China Morning Post.

"Some patients might have around a drop of 20 to 30% in lung function" after full recovery, he said.

While it's too early to establish long-term effects of the disease, scans of nine patients' lungs "found patterns similar to frosted glass in all of them, suggesting there was organ damage," Tsang said, according to the Post.

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A respiratory specialist encourages a patient to exercise in a hospital in Wuhan, China, in February 2020.

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As of Friday morning, 69,607 people have recovered from the coronavirus out of 128,392 confirmed cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. More than 4,700 people have died of the disease.

The disease appears to affect the elderly or infirm worse than any other demographic, as the outbreak in Italy has shown.

"Among those who are infected, most will recover," World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday.

The most commonly-reported symptoms include a fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath, and some 80% patients will experience a mild illness, according to the WHO.

covid 19 compared to other common conditions table
covid 19 compared to other common conditions table

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