Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) symptoms are increasingly recognized to persist among a subset of individuals following acute infection, but features associated with this persistence are not well-understood.
Previous reports showed that some patients who recover from COVID-19 report chronic symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, cough, and weakness. Some individuals report neurological and psychiatric effects, such as memory problems, brain fog, and depression.
Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School aimed to identify individual features that predicted the persistence of symptoms over at least two months.
The study findings, which appeared on the pre-print server medRxiv*, showed that COVID-19 survivors experience symptoms up to 10 months after infection.
Background of the study
Postviral syndromes after outbreaks have been noted for more than a century. COVID-19 appears to be no exception, as many survivors report persistent symptoms even after recovering.
Some people report symptoms that persist for more than two months, with some reporting symptoms at least six months later.
In a study conducted, 87 percent of people with COVID-19 had at least one persistent symptom. In contrast, at six months after hospitalization, another study found that 63 percent of the patients experienced weakness or fatigue, and 26 percent had sleep disturbance.
The researchers of the current study aimed to determine the extent of persistent symptoms in people who have recovered from COVID-19. They also want to determine how long these symptoms persist.
To arrive at the study findings, the researchers used data from a multi-wave United States survey that includes questions about COVID-19.
“We aimed to identify individual features that predicted persistence of symptoms over at least two months at the time of survey completion,” the team explained.
The researchers used ten waves of an online survey between June 13, 2020, and January 10, 2021, across 50 states and the District of Columbia. The waves included about 124,962 individuals.
Of these, 6,211 people reported symptomatic COVID-19 illness confirmed by a positive test or clinical diagnosis. About 4,946 people have recovered within less than two months, while 7.9 percent experienced persistent symptoms for more than two months.
The team also found that of the entire group, 3.4 percent had symptoms for four months or more, while 2.2 percent had persistent symptoms for more than six months. The team revealed that older age was tied to a greater risk of persistence of symptoms based on the data analyses.
When a patient had headaches, it has been tied to a greater likelihood of symptom persistence.
The study findings provide additional evidence that some people who recover from COVID-19 experience long-lasting and persistent symptoms.
“Notably, persistent symptoms are not strongly associated with any individual sociodemographic group; however, individual symptoms and greater overall acuity identify individuals at greater risk for persistence,” the team explained.
They added that the study results might help in risk stratification to determine those who are more likely to have persistent symptoms. Clinicians and health workers may also monitor these patients for follow-up.
COVID-19 pandemic toll
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. Worldwide, over 119 million infections are reported, and over 2.63 million lives have been lost.
The United States reports the highest number of reported infections, topping 29.4 million, with a death toll of over 534,000.
The other countries with a skyrocketing number of cases include Brazil, with 11.48 million cases; India with 11.35 million; Russia with 4.34 million; the United Kingdom with 4.27 million; and France with 4.1 million.
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.