ME Awareness: Higher risk of developing ME after coronavirus diagnosis, warns University of Leicester | 08 May 2020


LeicestershireLive by Dave Owen, 7 May 2020.

The study draws on previous research involving patients with the Epstein Barr and SARS viruses

Patients who have had coronavirus could be at higher risk of developing chronic fatigue syndrome, better known as M.E., warn researchers at the University of Leicester.

It has been estimated that up to 10 per cent of people recovering from the coronavirus could develop M.E (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), whose symptoms include sleep problems, muscle and joint pain, severe headaches, heat palpitations, problems concentrating and flu-like symptoms.

While the exact causes of all cases of M.E. are not known, the researchers say that viral infection is commonly identified as a trigger.

The study into a link between a Covid-19 diagnosis and the chances of getting ME draws on previous research involving patients who had contracted the Epstein Barr and SARS viruses.

Dr Nicola Clague-Baker, Associate Professor in the School of Allied Health Professions at the University of Leicester, believes patients who have been critically ill with Covid-19 may require physiotherapy.

She said it meant physiotherapists could play an “integral role in spotting the initial signs of the disease developing in patients”.

“The link between severe viral infection and M.E. is clear, as evidenced in the previous outbreaks of SARS and Epstein Barr, which saw an 8 – 10% corresponding rise in the number of patients diagnosed with M.E.,” she said.

“During the national Covid-19 crisis, many physiotherapists will have been redeployed to front-line services, but as time goes on our attention will shift to the rehabilitation of patients that were critically ill with coronavirus.

“Now is the time for physiotherapists to heighten their awareness of this serious complication from viral infection.

“M.E. develops from post-viral fatigue syndrome and is usually diagnosed between four and five months from the start of the viral infection.”

M.E. currently affects approximately 250,000 people in the UK. Around 25 per cent of patients are completely bedbound, with the duration of symptoms lasting indefinitely in some cases.

They say the challenge for physiotherapists who are working to rehabilitate Covid-19 survivors is to identify those who start to display symptoms of M.E. so that they can adapt their approach to avoid triggering periods of heightened symptoms and worsening the condition.

Dr Clague-Baker said indicators include a change to the patient’s daily life, such as having returned to work but having to use their weekends to recover or finding daily tasks a struggle.

“After a period of illness, people will be keen to recover and return to their normal activities,” she said.

“And many may try to ignore symptoms and believe they can ‘push through’ their fatigue.

“Careful questioning and an awareness of the viral infection in their history may help to identify potential new M.E. patients.

“It may be several months, or even years, before their symptoms are accurately identified.”

Clinical signs to look for:

  • Post exertional malaise
  • Persistent reported fatigue that substantially reduces activity levels
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Muscle and/or joint pain
  • Cognitive disturbances (memory, attention, information processing)
  • Sensory disturbances (photophobia, sound sensitivity)
  • Orthostatic intolerances (inability to tolerate anti-gravity positions)
  • Ongoing flu-like symptoms, sore throat/lymph node swelling

ME Association Coronavirus Information

Covid-19 and Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome.
Covid-19 and Welfare Benefits.
Covid-19 Update with Vulnerable Status Letter.

Image credit: 123RF/nunataki

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