Many people with mild COVID-19 still have long-term symptoms

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In a new study from the University of Arizona, researchers found many people who experience mild or moderate COVID-19 infection also experience long COVID, or persistent symptoms more than 30 days after they test positive.

They showed that an estimated 67% of people with mild or moderate COVID have long COVID, in other words, they still have symptoms more than 30 days after their positive test.

Existing research on long COVID has focused on hospitalized groups who experience a severe infection.

The team aimed to fill the gap in research on long COVID by analyzing data from non-hospitalized individuals.

They analyzed data from CoVHORT participants at three-month intervals.

Since May 2020, the CoVHORT study has followed Arizona residents who had COVID-19, as well as those who have not been infected, through online surveys that record infection status, symptoms and any positive tests.

The team found among participants who tested positive for COVID-19, 68.7% experienced at least one symptom after 30 days, marking the distinction for long COVID. This prevalence increased to 77% after 60 days of follow-up.

Researchers also found that individuals who experienced long COVID were more likely to be less educated, have seasonal allergies and pre-existing health conditions, and self-report greater symptom severity than people without long COVID.

People with long COVID who were surveyed 30 days after a positive test reported (in order of prevalence): fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, stress/anxiety, altered taste/smell, body aches and muscle pain, insomnia, headaches, joint pain, and congestion—the 10 most common long COVID symptoms.

The number and severity of symptoms, as well as duration of infection, vary widely between individuals infected with COVID-19. The median number of symptoms was three but was as high as 20 among participants.

Experiencing symptoms of COVID infection that last 30 days or more have been scientifically defined by researchers as post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 or PASC.

For this study, the estimated prevalence of PASC is only slightly less than prevalence estimates reported for hospitalized individuals.

This suggests that people with mild COVID-19 infection may experience long COVID symptoms almost as often as hospitalized individuals.

The team says this is a real wake-up call for anyone who has not been vaccinated. If you get COVID, the chances that you’ll experience long-term symptoms are surprisingly high.

If you care about long COVID, please read studies about long COVID more likely in these people and findings of long COVID: symptoms experienced during infection may predict lasting illness.

For more information about long covid and your health, please see recent studies about long COVID: with one in three patients back in hospital after three months, where are the treatments? and results showing that long COVID symptoms in a third of people with COVID-19.

The study is published in PLOS ONE. One author of the study is Melanie Bell, Ph.D., MS.

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