Nearly one of every 20 people who had COVID still haven’t recovered completely from their initial infection six to 18 months later, a new study shows, while another 42% say they have only recovered partially from their bout with the virus.
“While most people recover quickly and completely after infection with COVID-19, some people develop a wide variety of long-term problems. Therefore, understanding long COVID is essential to inform health and social care support,” said study author Jill Pell, a professor of public health at the University of Glasgow.
The study was launched in May 2021 to understand the long-term impact of COVID 19 infection by comparing it with the health and well-being of people who had not been infected.
Exactly what symptoms people with long COVID were experiencing were varied, but the condition had an impact on all aspects of daily life and reduced people’s overall quality of life. Most commonly reported symptoms were breathlessness, chest pain, palpitations and brain fog.
People who were hospitalized were more likely to have long COVID, as were older individuals, women, those from deprived communities and people with preexisting physical or mental health problems.
“Our study is important because it adds to our understanding of long COVID in the general population, not just in those people who need to be admitted to [the] hospital with COVID-19,” Pell said in a university news release. “By comparing symptoms with those uninfected, we were able to distinguish between health problems that are due to COVID-19 and health problems that would have happened anyway.”
To study the issue, researchers analyzed over 33,000 laboratory-confirmed COVID cases and matched those with almost 63,000 never-infected people from the general population. Both groups were followed via questionnaires at 6, 12 and 18 months. About 13% of people in the study reported improvement over time, but 11% reported some deterioration.
Those who had asymptomatic infections and those who had been vaccinated before their infection were fully or partially protected from long COVID, the researchers noted.
“This study provides novel and important evidence on long COVID in Scotland. We know that being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can reduce the likelihood of developing long-COVID and therefore we encourage those who are eligible for the COVID vaccine to take the opportunity to enhance their protection by getting vaccinated,” said Dr. Andrew McAuley, consultant healthcare scientist at Public Health Scotland.
One public health expert applauded the study.
“The beauty of this study is they have a control group, and they can isolate the proportion of symptomatology that is attributable to COVID infection,” Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, told the New York Times.
“It also tracks with the broader idea that long COVID is truly a multisystem disorder,” Al-Aly added, with effects seen “not only in the brain, not only in the heart — it’s all of the above.”
Collaborators in the Scottish study were Public Health Scotland, the NHS in Scotland and the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh. The findings were published Oct. 12 in Nature Communications.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on long COVID.
SOURCE: University of Glasgow, news release, Oct. 12, 2022; New York Times