Two years after being hospitalized with COVID-19, survivors of the virus have still not returned to the same level of health as those who never caught it, according to a new study.
And half of those patients are still showing at least one symptom related to the virus, suggesting that a long COVID could end up affecting patients for even longer than expected.
The research, published last week in the scientific journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, follows 1,192 patients who were hospitalized with COVID-19 at Jin Yin-tan Hospital in Wuhan, China, between early January 2020 and late May. 2020.
Because the research focuses on participants infected at the very start of the pandemic, it represents some of the longest data we have on the lasting effects of COVID-19, further shedding light on how this pandemic could leave huge swaths of of the population with persistent problems. for years.
“Our results indicate that for a certain proportion of hospitalized COVID-19 survivors, although they may have cleared the initial infection, it takes more than two years to fully recover from COVID-19,” Bin said. Cao, vice president of China-Japan. Friendship Hospital and lead author of the study, said in a press release.
“Continued follow-up of COVID-19 survivors, particularly those with long COVID symptoms, is critical to understanding the longer course of the disease, as is further exploration of the benefits of rehabilitation programs for recovery. . There is a clear need to provide ongoing support to a significant proportion of people who have had COVID-19 and to understand how vaccines, emerging treatments and variants affect long-term health outcomes.
This isn’t the first time data from this cohort has been published – researchers released results from patients in 2021, who looked at their health after six months and a year.
All results were compared to a control group who never contracted COVID-19 and whose age, sex and comorbidity had been matched to the study patient cohort. The median age of the 1,192 patients was 57, and there were slightly fewer women, at 46%.
To assess the health of patients during follow-ups, the majority of which were conducted in person, researchers included a physical examination, a six-minute walk test, and laboratory tests as well as symptom surveys, quality of life, mental health, and other aspects of their lives in the period following their recovery from COVID-19 and discharge from hospital.
In general, the health of those who survive COVID-19 improves over time, the data shows. The percentage of patients who reported having suffered from anxiety or depression fell from 23% at six months to 12% at two years.
While 14% of participants had difficulty walking on the six-minute test at the six-month follow-up, that number dropped to 8% after two years.
After two years, 89% of COVID-19 survivors who had a job before the pandemic had returned to that original job.
And in terms of long COVID, about 68% of patients were struggling with at least one persistent symptom of COVID-19 after six months, compared to 55% two years after contracting the virus.
…BUT COVID-19 HAS A PERMANENT EFFECT FOR MANY
The results still indicate that the long COVID is affecting a high number of people for longer than originally expected.
Of the persistent symptoms patients described, the most common were either fatigue or muscle weakness, with 31% reporting experiencing one or both. On top of that, although the patients improved over time, they still reported having overall worse mental and physical health than the general population.
“COVID-19 survivors still had more prevalent symptoms and more problems with pain or discomfort, as well as anxiety or depression, at two years than controls,” the study said.
Just under a third of participants also reported difficulty sleeping two years after contracting COVID-19, compared to just 14% of the general population represented by the control group.
COVID-19 survivors reported pain or discomfort at more than four times the rate of the control group and were more than twice as likely to report anxiety or depression.
And those with long COVID were expected to use health care more often, even two years after contracting the virus. About 26% of those who still had at least one virus-related symptom reported a recent outpatient clinic visit, compared with 11% of participants without long COVID.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the longest longitudinal cohort study of individuals who survived hospitalization with COVID-19,” the study states. “Long COVID symptoms at two years were linked to decreased quality of life, lower exercise capacity, abnormal mental health, and increased health care use after discharge.”
Many studies have recently been published in an attempt to quantify the impact of long COVID on the body and mind of patients. A study published in early May found that the cognitive impact of long COVID in people assessed six months after their acute illness was equivalent to aging 20 years.
The researchers of this new study say that more research will be needed to understand how to combat this.
“The negative effect on quality of life, exercise capacity, and healthcare utilization underscores the importance of studying the pathogenesis of long COVID and promoting the exploration of targeted therapy to manage or alleviate the disease,” the study said.
There are several limitations to the study, such as the fact that all patients came from a single hospital. Some who were originally part of the cohort did not return for the one-year and second-year follow-up, and it is unclear whether their presence would have confirmed the long COVID percentages or whether they dropped out because they did not. had no symptoms to report.
As the study examines those who contracted COVID-19 early in the pandemic, its findings may not be applicable to those who contracted later variants of the virus, highlighting the importance of tracking and studying along COVID in more patients across the globe.
“COVID-19 survivors had not returned to the same health status as the general population two years after acute infection, so continued follow-up is needed to characterize the prolonged natural history of long COVID; we plan to perform annual follow-ups in this cohort,” the authors wrote in the study.
“The value of rehabilitation programs in mitigating the effects of long COVID and accelerating recovery requires further exploration.”
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