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About half of the COVID-19 survivors from Bergamo, one of Italy's coronavirus epicenters, haven't recovered 6 months on, providing a stark warning of the pandemic's lingering aftermath

bergamo, italy, covid
A COVID-19 patient at Pope John XXIII Hospital on April 7 in Bergamo, Italy.
(Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)
  • Six months after the coronavirus hit Bergamo, one of Italy's early epicenters, nearly half of the survivors haven't recovered and are still dealing with a variety of problems, according to The Washington Post.
  • An infectious-disease specialist at Pope John XXIII Hospital who has been taking part in a study of COVID-19's long-term effects told The Post "almost half of the patients say no" when asked if they were cured.
  • Bergamo was closely followed by international media early in the year — army trucks had to drive bodies to morgues outside the region, oxygen had to be piped in for patients, and a harrowing video was released by Sky News showing an overwhelmed ICU dealing with a wave of patients.
  • The study of long-term effects began in early May and is based on evidence gathered from former patients who visit the hospital, have their hearts and lungs checked, and discuss how their lives have been since they fell ill.
  • Out of the first 750 people who were examined, about 30% had breathing difficulties and lung scarring, and another 30% had blood clotting and inflammation issues.
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Six months after the coronavirus hit Bergamo, the worst-hit province in Italy's worst-hit region, Lombardy, nearly half of the survivors still haven't recovered and are dealing with a variety of problems. 

Dr. Serena Venturelli, an infectious-disease specialist at Pope John XXIII Hospital, is one of the doctors working on a study of COVID-19's long-term effects. She told The Washington Post "almost half of the patients say no" when asked if they were cured. 

Bergamo is the city where a harrowing video was released in March showing an overwhelmed intensive-care unit dealing with a wave of patients.

At one point, so much oxygen was needed for 92 people on ventilators that oxygen had to be piped in using an emergency tank, according to The Post. 

The city had about 6,000 COVID-19 deaths, which filled 10 pages of a local newspaper, according to ABC News. 

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At another point, the Italian military had to drive bodies to different provinces because Bergamo's morgues were overrun. 

The study of long-term effects began in early May, and it is based on evidence gathered from 20 people visiting each day. After their blood is drawn and their hearts and lungs are checked, they discuss how their lives have been.

Venturelli told The Post that she and her fellow doctors felt a "moral obligation" to call the survivors back. 

"What we saw in March was a tragedy, not a normal hospitalization," she said.

Dr. Monica Casati, who works in the same hospital as Venturelli, told The Post working in March and hearing people crying and struggling to breathe was reminiscent of "Dante's Inferno."

Out of the first 750 people who were examined, about 30% had breathing difficulties and lung scarring and another 30% had blood clotting and inflammation issues. 

Doctors from the hospital told The Post there were a wide variety of effects, including hair loss, severe fatigue, tingling, depression, memory loss, and pain in the legs.

This is not the first time COVID-19 damage has been analyzed from Bergamo.

In July, Dr. Roberto Cosentini, the head of the emergency department at Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital, told Sky News: "We see a significant proportion of the population with chronic damage from the virus."

But doctors are not completely disheartened. Patients' breathing often seems to improve slowly despite permanent lung scarring, and no one has had a fever, The Post reported.

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