A third of people reported persistent symptoms after COVID-19 infection in this new study, which followed participants up to nine months after illness
Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle, US, have discovered that adults who had COVID-19 – even those who had only mild illness – may experience symptoms several months later that affect their quality of life.
A cohort of adults with laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection were enrolled into the study alongside a healthy control group, and reported their symptoms either at the time of acute illness or retrospectively recounted after 30 days.
A total of 177 of 234 participants then competed a follow-up questionnaire between three and nine months after illness onset (median – 169 days).
About 85% of participants were outpatients with mild illness, while 6% were asymptomatic and 9% had moderate or severe disease requiring hospitalisation.
Among participants with COVID-19, persistent symptoms were reported by 27% of patients aged 18 to 39 years, 30% of patients aged 40 to 64 years, and 43% of patients aged 65 years and older.
Overall, a third of outpatients and 31% of hospitalised patients reported at least one persistent symptom compared to 5% of healthy participants in the control group.
Among patients with hypertension or diabetes, nearly 36% experienced ongoing symptoms.
The most common persistent symptoms were fatigue (14%) and loss of sense of smell or taste (14%).
Overall, 13% of patients reported other symptoms, including brain fog (2%).
More than 30% of outpatients and hospitalised patients reported worse health-related quality of life compared with baseline versus less than 13% of healthy participants and asymptomatic patients.
Around 8% of patients reported negative impacts on at least one activity of daily living, the most common being household chores.
The authors in JAMA Network Open said the results are consistent with a previously reported study in which 36% of outpatients had not returned to baseline health by 14 to 21 days following infection.
However they added that “this has not been previously described nine months after infection”.
Existing studies have focused on hospitalised individuals 30 to 90 days after illness onset and have reported symptoms up to 110 days after illness.
“Our research indicates that the health consequences of COVID-19 extend far beyond acute infection, even among those who experience mild illness,” they wrote.
Study limitations included small sample size, single study location and potential bias from self-reported
symptoms during illness episode.
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