BEIRUT: A young man with no underlying health issues was admitted to the Rafik Hariri University Hospital last month after exhibiting coronavirus symptoms. Six weeks later the 22-year-old is still confined to bed, and can only breathe with the help of a machine.
“He came to us with a cough, a temperature and had difficulty breathing,” Dr. Mahmoud Hassoun, head of the Pulmonary Intensive Care Division at RHUH, told The Daily Star.
The patient had no underlying health conditions, Hassoun said.
“Scans showed he had infected lungs and he also had a shortage of oxygen in his blood,” he explained, noting that they had not expected the patient's condition to deteriorate to this degree due to his age and health record.
As a result of these conditions, he was admitted for hospital care. “Unfortunately his blood oxygen levels remained low, and he was put under mechanical ventilation and since then we haven’t been able to remove it,” Hassoun said.
Hassoun explained that the patient’s lung infection turned into lung fibrosis, a disease where lung tissue gets damages and scarred, leading to the patient increasingly suffering from shorteness of breath. Fibrosis cannot be reversed.
“He is awake and his condition is stable, but unfortunately still breathing with the help of mechanical ventilation and confined to bed ... when he gets up he can’t walk,” Hassoun said, as the patient lacks the strength and feels fatigued.
This patient, Hassoun said, was the first to receive a type of treatment that in the past wasn’t available at RHUH – the epicenter of Lebanon’s response against COVID-19. The treatment involves plasma that contains coronavirus antibodies, extracted from donors who were previously affected by the disease.
Despite all the treatments for coronavirus offered by the hospital, the young man's condition has not improved.
Hassoun said that while some people in a situation similar to that of the young patient might recover, not all do.
The reason could be genetic, he told The Daily Star. “Some people fall ill and are more deeply affected by the virus than others because of their genetic makeup,” he said, stressing that this theory was still being studied.
RHUH is carrying out a study, with a sample of 500 people, to determine which genes get affected more by coronavirus, Hassoun said.
Another reason that could explain why the condition of young people with no underlying health issues becomes critical is simply the strength of their immune system, he said.
It is common knowledge at this point in the pandemic that coronavirus mostly affects older people and those with pre-existing health conditions, and that mortality rates across the globe show that the elderly are more at risk of dying from the novel coronavirus.
However, this does not mean young people are immune to the devastating effects of the virus.
“This is a misconception among the youth, who think they will be fine because they have no prior health issues,” Hassoun said.
“No, you are not fine,” he said, addressing young people.
Because of this warped understanding of the virus’ impact on the youth, young people have been largely ignoring coronavirus preventions measures in Lebanon and elsewhere around the world.
A WHO scientist warned at the beginning of July that young people have been complacent toward COVID-19.
“We have to remember that young people are not immune to severe diseases or death. It's less common than in older people but they should not become complacent, [or think] that it's fine for young people to get affected,” WHO scientist Dr. Sumaya Swaminathan said.
Lebanon was shaken by the death of a 32-year-old doctor from coronavirus Monday. Dr. Louay Ismail had contracted the virus from a patient while on hospital duty, taking care of COVID-19 patients. A medical source told The Daily Star he had no underlying medical conditions.
Apart from being the first doctor to lose his life from the virus, Ismail’s death came as a warning to others young people who have been ignoring COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Clubs, bars, beaches and swimming pools in Lebanon have all been allowed to open and people, many of them youths, have since been flocking to these places.
“Yes, let them [young people] go out, but they should take all the precautions, wash their hands and wear masks ... if they have symptoms of a cold they should stay home and not mix up with people,” Hassoun advised.
Lebanon has so far registered 41 deaths due to coronavirus since it was first detected in February. Data on the exact ages of those who died in Lebanon was not readily available from the Health Ministry, but according to Hassoun most of the deaths were among people older than the age of 50, with the youngest person to die from the virus at RHUH being 46 years old.
A 26-year-old was also a victim of the virus in Lebanon, Hassoun said, although the patient died at another hospital.
“Young people are not safe [from COVID-19],” Hassoun warned.