HALF of Covid-19 survivors in the region that was the epicentre of Italy's outbreak say they are still suffering with the effects of the virus.
Patients returning to the main hospital in Bergamo, Lombardy have been found with scarred lungs, fungus bombs, and brain lesions months after recovering from the illness itself.
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In March, Italy became the first country to impose a nationwide lockdown, and at one stage had more cases of coronavirus than any other country in the world.
Reports from the time of its peak described hospitals overwhelmed and the military having to be brought in to help cemeteries handle the flow of bodies.
With the country's first wave having passed, the hospital in Bergamo, once the worst-hit city in Italy, has begun inviting patients back to study the after effects of the coronavirus, the Washington Post.
Scientists have taken the patients' blood, tested their hearts, and scanned their lungs as well as asked them questions about the impact the virus has had on their day-to-day lives.
Twenty patients are currently being studied each day, and doctors say the impact of the virus clearly varies, but that for some it has full-body and lasting effects.
“We are asking: Are you feeling cured?” Serena Venturelli, an infectious-disease specialist at the hospital, told the Post.
"Almost half the patients say no."
One 54-year-old woman recently said she had been left unable to walk up a set of stairs without losing her breath.
“I feel like I’m 80 years old,” she told medics.
'THIS IS SOMETHING NEW'
Of the first 750 patients studied, around 30 percent had lasting scarring on their lungs and difficulty breathing.
One man, Mirco Carrara, 55, suffered a collapsed lung, a fungal infection, and spent over a month in a medically-induced coma.
Doctors have now detected small bubbles filled with fungus in his lungs, and say any that burst will critically damage his ability to breath properly.
Another patient, Giuseppe Vavassori, 65, has suffered short-term memory loss since recovering from the virus.
He has been able to reopen his funeral home business, but now relies on written notes to get through the day.
An MRI scan has shown that he now has small lesions on his brain.
Other survivors have talked of suffering extreme fatigue and sleepiness, hair loss, and depression.
A study published by researchers in Bristol last month similarly suggested that 75 percent of patients were still suffering symptoms three months after contracting the virus.
Marco Rizzi, the head of the Bergamo hospital's infectious disease department, said the virus has done more than simply exacerbate pre-existing conditions.
“We are talking about something new,” he said.
Italy was able to contain the virus throughout June and July, but has seen cases begun to rise again in recent weeks.
It is currently seeing around 1,400 new cases per day, compared to a peak of 6,500 in mid-March, though its daily death toll remains consistently lower than 20.
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