At Nanavati Hospital in Juhu, six elderly patients with spine infection or abscess were treated in four weeks. “They needed hospitalization for weeks during their Covid-19 infection,’’ said spine surgeon Dr Mihir Bapat. The infection was so severe that five needed spine surgery plus last-resort antibiotics. “They will take three months to move around normally,’’ said Dr Bapat.
For Vasai resident Renold Sirwel, medical bills since he contracted Covid in September were above Rs 15 lakh. The 68-year-old has had four hospitalisations, a spine surgery and a nurse comes home thrice a day to administer IV antibiotics that cost Rs 7,000 daily.
“My father never fell ill and would walk 10km daily till he got Covid,’’ said his son Vinit. He was admitted to a local hospital for 10 days and got remdesivir for treatment. Within few days of returning home, he was rushed again to hospital with excruciating lower back pain. Over the next two months, he visited doctors as his pain worsened and started treatment for spine tuberculosis.
He was referred to Dr Bapat and a spinal biopsy showed gram-negative bacteria found only in hospital ICUs. Sirwel, who underwent spine operation at Nanavati on December 7 and was discharged a fortnight later, has to take last-resort antibiotics such as colistin and tigecycline for three weeks.
While the Sirwels wonder what led to the spine infection, doctors state it is not a Covid-related infection. “It is possibly related to low immunity Covid patients have,’’ said Dr Bapat.
Another spine surgeon, Dr Samir Dalvie from Hinduja Hospital, Mahim, also saw cases of spine abscesses in patients who recovered from Covid. “Covid affects the body’s ability to fight infections that could have been latent and flare up,’’ he said.
Another doctor said as the spine infections are caused by micro-organisms found only in hospital ICUs, it means the patient got it during his initial hospital stay for Covid treatment.
Dr Rahul Pandit, ICU head of Fortis Hospital and a member of the state task-force on Covid, said microbes fester in the spine epidural space (between vertebral wall and membrane). “At Fortis, a patient, after Covid developed an abscess in the area outside the spine,’’ he said.
The doctors said there was a need to suspect spinal infections early. “If a recovered Covid patient has back pain that does not improve after bed rest for at least two weeks, further investigations are needed,’’ said Dr Bapat.