A follow-up study found that two years after being hospitalised with COVID-19 in China, over half still have at least one symptom.
The longest follow-up study to date, published in The Lancet, followed around 1200 patients in Wuhan, China, who were hospitalised with COVID-19 during the first phase of the pandemic in 2020.
Generally, both physical and mental health improved over time, regardless of initial disease severity. Nearly 90% of participants had returned to their original work after two years.
However, six months after initially falling ill, nearly 70% of participants reported at least one long COVID symptom. By two years after infection, over half of the participants were still experiencing at least one symptom.
“Our findings indicate that for a certain proportion of hospitalised COVID-19 survivors, while they may have cleared the initial infection, more than two years is needed to recover fully from COVID-19,” said lead author Bin Cao of the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, China.
The symptoms of long COVID include fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle weakness and sleep difficulties up to two years after initially falling ill.
Moreover, the study suggests that COVID-19 patients still tend to have poorer health and quality of life than the general population, which indicates that more time is needed for a full recovery.
The study found that participants “experienced a poorer quality of life and ability to exercise more mental health issues, and increased use of health-care services compared to those without symptoms of long COVID,” is stated in Lancet’s press release.
COVID-19 patients were more likely to report joint pain, palpitations, dizziness, and headaches than those who did not get infected.
Mental health is also affected
In the meantime, regarding mental health, every third COVID-19 patient reported pain or discomfort and anxiety or depression. These symptoms were seen four times more often in COVID patients than in non-COVID-19 participants.
This confirms the findings of another study, published in The Lancet Public Health journal on 15 March, which looked at symptom-prevalence of depression, anxiety, COVID-19 related distress, and poor sleep quality among people with and without COVID-19 diagnosis.
This analysis, including almost 250,000 individuals across Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the UK, found that acute COVID-19 illness severity was associated with mental morbidities up to 16 months after diagnosis. Additionally, the researchers found that the mental health burden was lesser for those never infected than those with mild symptoms.
Long COVID participants also more often reported problems with mobility or activity levels and used health-care services after being discharged than those without long COVID.
As the longest follow-up studies to date have spanned around one year, the long-term health impacts of COVID-19 remained largely unknown.
“Ongoing follow-up of COVID-19 survivors, particularly those with symptoms of long COVID, is essential to understand the longer course of the illness, as is a further exploration of the benefits of rehabilitation programmes for recovery,” Cao said.
“There is a clear need to provide continued support to a significant proportion of people who’ve had COVID-19 and understand how vaccines, emerging treatments, and variants affect long-term health outcomes,” he concluded.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]
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