Covid symptoms last a year for many patients, new study reveals

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  • Around half of patients who are hospitalised for coronavirus still have symptoms, like fatigue or shortness of breath, 12 months on
  • The study calls ‘long Covid’ a modern medical challenge and says health authorities must be prepared to provide long-term support
Agence France-Presse |
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A patient with coronavirus rests inside an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Machakos Level 5 hospital in Machakos, Kenya. A new study found that many Covid patients still have ‘long Covid’ symptoms, even a year after being hospitalised. Photo: EPA

Even a year after their hospitalisation for Covid-19, many patients are still afflicted by fatigue and shortness of breath, according to a new Chinese study calling for a better understanding of the pandemic’s long-term health effects.

Around half of patients discharged from hospital for Covid still suffer from at least one persistent symptom - most often fatigue or muscle weakness - after 12 months, said the study published in British medical journal The Lancet on Friday.

The research, the largest yet on the condition known as “long Covid”, added that one in three patients still have shortness of breath a year after their diagnosis.

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That number is even higher in patients hit more severely by the illness.

“With no proven treatments or even rehabilitation guidance, long Covid affects people’s ability to resume normal life and their capacity to work,” The Lancet said in an editorial published with the study.

“The study shows that for many patients, full recovery from Covid-19 will take more than a year.”

The study is the largest of its kind so far and seeks to understand how coronavirus symptoms persist. Photo: TNS

The study followed nearly 1,300 people hospitalised for Covid between January and May 2020 in the central Chinese city of Wuhan - the first place affected by the pandemic, which has since infected 214 million people worldwide and killed more than four million.

The percentage of observed patients with at least one persistent symptom decreased from 68 per cent after six months to 49 per cent after 12 months.

However, respiratory discomfort increased from 26 per cent of patients after six months to 30 per cent after 12 months, it said.

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It found affected women were 43 per cent more likely than affected men to suffer from fatigue or persistent muscle weakness, and twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression.

But it said 88 per cent of patients who worked before their diagnosis had returned to their jobs a year later.

The study adds to previous research that warned authorities in different countries that they must be prepared to provide long-term support to health workers and patients affected by Covid.

“Long Covid is a modern medical challenge of the first order,” the editorial said, calling for more research to understand the condition and provide better care for patients who suffer from it.

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