‘Long COVID’ can ruin your ability to work for over a year

NEW YORK — As many COVID-19 patients are finding out, the fallout from their illness may not end with their infection. “Long COVID” — or the lingering symptoms which continue to bother patients after they recover — can stick with people for weeks and even months. Now, a new study finds a concerning trend among full-time employees trying to go back to work after a COVID infection. Researchers from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York find long COVID can negatively impact a person’s ability to work for more than a year.

In a survey of 156 people treated at Mount Sinai’s Center for Post-COVID Care, study authors discovered that just 55 of 102 full-time workers were able to go back to their regular schedule over the next year. Moreover, the study finds long COVID (or post-acute COVID syndrome) has a significant impact on thinking ability, participation in physical activity, interactions with others, and a person’s overall quality of life.

“With millions of Americans at risk of developing PACS by the end of the pandemic, a second, longer-term public health emergency has emerged. It is imperative to understand the burden of this novel condition and develop targeted interventions to help patients participate in daily activities, as well as policies that will assist them with their disability and employment status,” says senior author David Putrino, PhD, Mount Sinai’s Director of Rehabilitation Innovation, in a media release.

“This study is a concerning reminder of how severely debilitating PACS symptoms are, the toll they take on health and wellness, and the fact that, without active treatment, these symptoms appear to persist indefinitely.”

Working hard can make long COVID worse

The team examined this group of patients between March 2020 and March 2021. Each patient had COVID-19 and had not been vaccinated at the time of the survey. The group also reported which persistent symptoms continued to affect them after their illness and what activities made those symptoms worse over an average of 351 days post-infection.

Researchers also asked detailed questions about common long COVID symptoms including fatigue, breathlessness, problems concentrating, brain fog, anxiety, depression, and disability. Results show 82 percent of patients say they experienced fatigue. Two in three had brain fog and 60 percent had headaches or trouble sleeping. Over half the group also experienced dizziness (54%).

The team also found that over 60 percent of patients with long COVID experienced some level of cognitive impairment. Symptoms included a declining short-term memory, problems remembering names, and trouble making decisions or daily plans.

As for what makes long COVID worse, study authors found the biggest triggers are physical exertion (86%), stress (69%), dehydration (49%), and weather changes (37%).

“Many of the symptoms reported in this study have been measured, but for many this is the first time they have been objectively documented using well-validated patient-reported outcomes, and linked to changes in activities of daily living and quality of life,” explains Dr. Putrino.

“The long duration of these symptoms remind us that this is a problem that is not going away, and that we need to aggressively pursue policies that will better support and protect these patients in the long-term. Future research should focus on more detailed monitoring of PACS symptoms—better understanding how and why they are happening will be crucial in developing targeted treatments.”

The findings appear in the American Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine.