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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues unabated in many countries, an ever-growing group of people is being moved from the "infected" to the "restored" category. But have you really recovered? Many individual reports have shown that many people with severe infections experience difficult recovery, with persistent symptoms, some of which remain debilitating. Now there is a small study from Italy in which a group of infected people was followed on average 60 days after their infection was discovered. And the study confirms that symptoms persist long after the detection of a detectable virus.
The study was incredibly simple in design. Patients treated for COVID-19 in Rome were asked to participate in a tracking study. A total of 143 patients agreed and were accepted into the study after a negative test for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The group was between 19 and 85 years old and had an average age of 57 years. Overall, they had spent an average of 13 days in the hospital during the infection, and about 20 percent needed breathing support.
About 60 days later, the researchers evaluated these patients. Two months after no virus was detectable, only 13 percent of the study group were free of COVID-19 symptoms. In contrast, just over half still had at least three symptoms typical of the disease.
The most common symptom was fatigue, followed by difficulty breathing, joint pain and chest pain. Over 10 percent were still coughing, and similar numbers had not seen their sense of smell return. A variety of other symptoms were also present.
And that's about all the data the researchers have. The study has a number of potential problems. The study population is smaller than anyone else, and participants were asked to remember the symptoms they had in the hospital rather than pulling their symptoms from their medical records. In addition, some of the COVID-19 symptoms examined – such as B. Headache – fairly general and can have different causes.
Nevertheless, it is good to get some quantitative data about what has been largely limited to individual reports. And the data provides information that officials who coordinate the response to the pandemic could find valuable, as it suggests that if we can lower the mortality rate, the burden on the medical system will not necessarily decrease. And hopefully this provides an additional reason for people to take the COVID-19 threat seriously. This is a population that is, on average, significantly lower than the high-risk population, and (apparently) all have survived the disease, but continue to struggle two months after the virus was eliminated.
JAMA, 2020. DOI: 10.1001 / jama.2020.12603 (About DOIs).