Half of Covid hospitalized patients still symptomatic two years later, study finds | Coronavirus

More than half of people hospitalized with Covid-19 still have at least one symptom two years after they were first infected, according to the longest follow-up study of its kind.

While physical and mental health generally improves over time, the analysis suggests that coronavirus patients who are discharged from hospital still tend to experience poorer health and quality of life than the general population. The research is published in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

“Our findings indicate that for a certain proportion of Covid-19 survivors who have been hospitalized, although they may have cleared the initial infection, it will take more than two years to fully recover,” said the lead author, Prof. Bin Cao, of the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in China.

Until now, the long-term effects of Covid-19 have remained largely unknown, as the longest follow-up studies to date have lasted about a year. The absence of pre-Covid-19 health status data and comparisons to the general population in most studies also made it difficult to determine how well patients with Covid-19 have recovered.

For the new study, researchers sought to analyze the long-term health outcomes of hospitalized Covid-19 survivors, as well as the specific health effects of long-term Covid. They evaluated the health of 1,192 participants with acute Covid-19 who were treated at Jin Yin-tan Hospital in Wuhan, China, between January 7 and May 29, 2020, after six months, 12 months and two years. At discharge, the mean age was 57 years.

The assessments included a six-minute walk test, lab tests and questionnaires on symptoms, mental health, health-related quality of life, return to work after discharge, and health care utilization. Health outcomes at two years were determined using a age, gender, and co-morbid control group of people in the general population with no history of Covid-19 infection.

Six months after initial illness, 68% of patients reported at least one long-term Covid symptom. Two years after infection, more than half – 55% – still reported symptoms. Fatigue or muscle weakness were the most commonly reported. Regardless of the severity of their initial illness, one in ten patients – 11% – had not returned to work two years later.

Two years after initially becoming ill, the patients were in worse health than the general population, with 31% reporting fatigue or muscle weakness and 31% reporting sleep problems. The proportion of non-Covid-19 participants reporting these symptoms was 5% and 14%, respectively. The Covid-19 patients were also more likely to report a number of other symptoms, including joint pain, palpitations, dizziness and headache. In QoL questionnaires, Covid-19 survivors were also more likely to report pain or discomfort and anxiety or depression than non-Covid-19 participants.

The authors acknowledged the limitations of their study. Because it is a single-center study from the start of the pandemic, the findings may not extend directly to the long-term health outcomes of patients infected with subsequent variants, according to the Lancet Respiratory Medicine. Like most Covid-19 follow-up studies, there is also the possibility of information bias when analyzing self-reported health outcomes.

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“Continued follow-up of Covid-19 survivors, particularly those with symptoms of long-term Covid, is essential to understand the longer course of the disease, as well as further research into the benefits of rehabilitation programs for recovery,” Cao said. “There is a clear need to provide continued support for a significant proportion of people who have had Covid-19 and to understand how vaccines, emerging treatments and variants affect long-term health outcomes.”

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