PHOENIX, Ariz. — Two-thirds of people who experience moderate coronavirus symptoms end up with so-called “long COVID,” scientists warn. COVID-19 symptoms, like a loss of taste and smell, stick around for more than 30 days in the majority of mild cases, according to a new study.
Existing research on the long term effects of the virus has focused on hospitalized patients who experience severe symptoms. Now, researchers at the University of Arizona have turned their attention to those who experience moderate symptoms but do not end up in hospital. They say long COVID is just as common.
“We showed that an estimated 67 percent 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,” says lead researcher Melanie Bell, a biostatistics professor at the university, in a statement. “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.”
Data on Arizona residents who either caught COVID-19 or were not infected was collected using online surveys from May 2020 onwards. The surveys recorded infection status, symptoms and any positive tests they took after the study began.
Among those who tested positive for COVID, 68.7 percent experienced at least one symptom after 30 days — the threshold for long COVID. This increased to 77 percent when the researchers followed-up with people after 60 days.
Individuals who experienced long COVID were more likely to have seasonal allergies and pre-existing health conditions, researchers say. They also tended to be less educated and self-report having more severe symptoms than people without long COVID. After 30 days, people with long COVID reported feeling 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 symptoms.
On average, people with long COVID experienced three of these symptoms, although some had as many as 20. Experiencing symptoms that last 30 days or more has been scientifically described as “post-acute sequelae of COVID-19,” or PASC.
In this study, the prevalence of long COVID is only slightly less than the number of people hospitalized. This suggests long term symptoms may be just as common among hospitalized and non hospitalized COVID patients, the researchers say.
The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Report by South West News Service writer Tom Campbell.