Since the beginning of the pandemic, both patients and doctors have been frustrated by the large minority of coronavirus infections that are turning into long COVIDa bewildering set of long-lasting and often disabling symptoms that persist for weeks, months, or years after the initial infection subsides.
The condition has been reported in both children and adults; those who have had pre-existing illnesses and those who are in good health; in patients hospitalized with COVID-19; and those who had only mild symptoms at the time of initial infection.
The study, published this month in Scientific Reports, also found that 23% of people who had a coronavirus infection between March 2020 and March 2021 still reported symptoms for 12 weeks.
The researchers recruited about 8,000 people, some of whom were infected and some not, to answer questions every two weeks about their general health and COVID-19 status. By the end of the one-year survey period, they had a sample of 308 people who developed the disease at some point in the year.
By filtering out respondents with symptoms such as headache and pre-infection fatigue from unrelated conditions such as seasonal allergies, the team found that nearly one in four COVID-19 patients is still struggling with symptoms 12 weeks after infection.
“These people are not necessarily able to do all the activities that they would like to do, cannot fully work and take care of their families,” he said. Eileen Crimminsdemographer of the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California and co-author of the study.
“This is an aspect of this disease that needs to be acknowledged because it’s actually not as harmless as some people think,” she said. “Even people who have relatively few symptoms at first can develop long-term COVID.”
Determining who is at greater risk of prolonged COVID has proven to be a challenge for demographers and healthcare professionals.
Several previous studies have identified women as a risk group. But the USC study found no association in its sample between prolonged COVID and agegender, race, and pre-existing health conditions, including cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
He noted a higher risk in patients who were obese before infection. In addition, some links have been identified between the specific symptoms people experienced at the time of initial infection and the likelihood of developing long-term COVID. Patients who reported sore throats, headaches and, interestingly, hair loss after testing positive were more likely to have lingering symptoms months later.
“We hypothesize that the hair loss reflects severe stress, possibly a reaction to heat or medication,” Crimmins said. “So that’s probably some indication of how serious the illness was.”
Because it only covered the first year of the pandemic, the study leaves out two major developments: vaccines and options. None of the COVID-19 patients in the sample were eligible for vaccination during the study period, and all were infected before the UK alpha variant reached US shores.
While the study’s 308 respondents were representative of the population, no single snapshot of a few hundred people can tell the whole story. about 200 million people in the US who had the virus, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The authors have made a commendable effort to identify factors associated with the prolonged course of COVID,” the post reads. Dr. Alain Lekubu Luti, a neurologist at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the study. “However, these factors may need to be confirmed in larger samples.”
The most common long-term COVID symptoms reported were headache, nasal congestion, abdominal pain, fatigue, and diarrhea. But the study didn’t account for many of the symptoms that people living with long-term COVID describe as the most debilitating, said Hannah Davis, co-founder Patient-led collaborative researcha research group that focuses on the condition.
“We need this kind of work, but this work also indicates that they are not very familiar with what long COVID is,” Davis said. “The list of symptoms is predominantly acute symptoms of COVID and does not include the most common symptoms of post-exercise sickness, cognitive dysfunction, memory loss, sensorimotor symptoms, and others.”
Defining long-term COVID presents a challenge for those trying to track or treat it. COVID-19 is a chimerical beast – symptoms develop how the state drags onand can vary widely between patients.
The fluidity of long-term COVID makes it difficult to estimate its prevalence. Various studies show that the percentage of people reporting persistent symptoms 12 weeks after their initial infection ranges from 3% to fifty%.
“We need a universal case definition before we can really understand the prevalence of long-term COVID. Right now, the definition varies widely across studies, leading to a wide range of prevalence estimates,” he said. Yana Hirshtik, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “After all this time, we still don’t have a clear picture of who is most at risk.”
The lack of strict diagnostic criteria is also a major problem for patients seeking treatment. For now, long-term COVID is considered an “exclusionary diagnosis,” meaning a diagnosis only made after all other valid possibilities have been ruled out, he said. Melissa Pinto, an associate professor of nursing at the University of California, Irvine, who studies the condition. In the US, this can mean a long and expensive process of going through various tests and specialists.
For many long-term COVID patients, 12 weeks is just the beginning of an ordeal lasting months or years.
“I know people who have had it for 2.5 years,” Pinto said. “There really is no security system for these people.”