Prof. Dr. Kathrin Reetz
Prof. Dr. Kathrin Reetz, ©Balsereit

More and more clinics offer surgery hours for post-covid patients who are suffering from a Coronavirus infection for a long time. In this interview, Prof. Dr. Kathrin Reetz talks about why she directs the office hours at the University Hospital RWTH Aachen as a neurologist.

Prof. Reetz, for 80 out of 100 patients suffering from COVID-19 symptoms, the disease takes a milder course, for 15 it takes a severe course and 5 are so ill that they have to be treated on intensive care units. How many patients are suffering from Post-Covid?

Prof. Dr. Kathrin Reetz: That’s still hard to say at the moment because we don’t have any long-term data yet. Currently, there is different information but also with different periods of time. We talk about Post-Covid-19 syndrome when the symptoms last longer than 12 weeks after an infection with the Coronavirus. We define Long-Covid as persisting symptoms of four to twelve weeks and the Post-Covid-syndrome. First estimates indicate that approximately up to 10 per cent of persons affected show persisting symptoms after a Coronavirus infection. The longer the period of time, the fewer persons affected. Therefore, at the moment it is assumed that one to three per cent suffer from Post-Covid, so longer than twelve weeks.

You are a neurologist, why did you establish office hours for Post-Covid patients at your clinic?

Prof. Dr. Kathrin Reetz: We established the Post-Covid office hours because suddenly there was a demand for it – many patients with neurological symptoms after a Coronavirus infection contacted us. That’s why we established our neurological Post-Covid office hours in late summer/fall 2020 at the University Hospital RWTH Aachen. It was exactly the right thing to do, as we still get a lot of requests from Aachen and surroundings.

Other clinics are offering Post-Covid office hours as well. At the University Hospital Hamburg, the colleagues from the Department of Infectiology are responsible, at the University Hospital Munich, the Department of Gastroenterology and at the Ruhrlandklinik in Essen it’s the Department for Pneumology. Why is it still unclear whose responsibility this is?

Prof. Dr. Kathrin Reetz: The Corona pandemic has an impact on all areas of medicine. Primarily, it’s an infection of the upper and lower respiratory tract, therefore it concerns infectiologists and internists. However, we also observe an increased occurrence of neurological diseases and symptoms, thus, neurologist are also necessary. Therefore, an interdisciplinary cooperation of the different subject disciplines is desirable to be able to offer the best possible treatment to patients.

Which symptoms are Post-Covid patients suffering from?

Prof. Dr. Kathrin Reetz: A recently published review and meta-analysis  describes 50 different long-term effects in the period of 14-110 days after an acute Coronavirus infection. The five most common symptoms were fatigue, headache, attention deficit disorder, hair loss and shortness of breath. This also corresponds with the observations from our neurological Post-Covid office hours.

Can Covid-19 also turn into an incurable disease? Do people consult you that fell ill during the first wave and are plagued by the disease for almost a year now?

Prof. Dr. Kathrin Reetz: To really be able to answer this, we still need the missing long-term data. What we can already say now is that most patients did recover very well and the neurological long-term symptoms improved significantly over time or disappeared completely. Most patients that we see were infected during the so-called “second wave”. There are very few patients from the “first wave” with persisting symptoms.

Prof. Dr. Kathrin Reetz works at the Clinic for Neurology of the University Hospital RWTH Aachen as an assistant medical director. She has received awards for different works in the area of neurology, most recently the Erwin Niehaus prize from the Alzheimer’s Researche Initiative.