Most long COVID symptoms disappear within a year after mild infection

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In a study from KI Research Institute and elsewhere, scientists found most symptoms or conditions that develop after mild COVID-19 infection lingers for several months but return to normal within a year.

In particular, vaccinated people were at lower risk of breathing difficulties—the most common effect to develop after mild infection—than unvaccinated people.

These findings suggest that the vast majority of mild disease patients do not suffer serious or chronic long-term illness.

Long COVID is defined as symptoms persisting or new symptoms appearing more than four weeks after initial infection.

The long COVID symptoms mainly include fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of smell, loss of taste, and difficulty concentrating.

In the study, researchers compared the health of uninfected individuals with those who had recovered from mild COVID-19 for a year after infection.

They used electronic records of a large public healthcare organization in Israel, in which almost 2 million members were tested for COVID-19 between March 1, 2020 and October 1, 2021.

Over 70 long COVID conditions were analyzed in a group of infected and matched uninfected members.

The researchers compared conditions in unvaccinated people, with and without COVID-19 infection.

Conditions in vaccinated versus unvaccinated people with COVID-19 were also compared over the same time periods.

To ensure only mild disease was assessed, they excluded patients admitted to hospitals with more serious illnesses.

The team found COVID-19 infection was strongly linked to increased risks of several conditions including loss of smell and taste, concentration and memory impairment, breathing difficulties, weakness, palpitations, streptococcal tonsillitis and dizziness in both early and late time periods, while hair loss, chest pain, cough, muscle aches and pains and respiratory disorders resolved in the late period.

The overall burden of conditions after infection across the 12-month study period was highest for weakness and breathing difficulties.

Male and female patients showed minor differences, and children had fewer outcomes than adults during the early phase of COVID-19, which mostly resolved in the late period.

Findings were similar across the wild-type, alpha and delta COVID-19 variants.

Vaccinated people who became infected had a lower risk of breathing difficulties and similar risk for other conditions than did unvaccinated infected patients.

This study suggests that mild COVID-19 patients are at risk for a small number of health outcomes and most of them are resolved within a year from diagnosis.

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The study was conducted by Barak Mizrahi et al and published in The BMJ.

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