One year later, 6 in 10 patients still battling long COVID symptoms

LISBON, Portugal — As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, a new study finds “long COVID” is dragging on as well. Researchers in Luxembourg have found that more than half of the patients dealing with long COVID still experience symptoms a full year after their initial infection.

Researcher Aurelie Fischer and a team at the Luxembourg Institute of Health surveyed nearly 300 former COVID patients, checking on each of their lingering symptoms after they recovered from the virus. Previous studies have uncovered roughly 200 different ailments which continue to plague COVID patients for weeks and even months after a coronavirus infection. Overall, 25 to 40 percent of the COVID patients go on to develop long COVID.

The new study found six in 10 people (59.5%) still had at least one long COVID symptom a year after testing positive for COVID-19. The most common lingering symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, and irritability.

Moreover, the team found that if a long COVID patient continued to experience a particular symptom for at least 15 weeks (roughly four months), that symptom stuck with them for the rest of the year.

Severe COVID cases led to more lingering symptoms

Study authors also split these participants into three groups, according to their initial infection severity (asymptomatic, mild, and moderate-to-severe). This distinction revealed that patients with a moderate or severe case of COVID-19 were twice as likely to suffer from long COVID one year later. Having a severe case of COVID also made it more likely that patients would experience sleep problems a year later in comparison to asymptomatic patients (63.8% vs. 38.6%)

“We observed a gradient between COVID-19 severity at inclusion and frequency of long COVID at one year. Participants with a mild form of the acute illness were more likely than those who’d been asymptomatic to have at least one symptom at one year, and to have sleep problems, but to a lesser extent than those with a moderate or severe acute illness,” says Fischer in a media release.

Patients are not coping with long COVID well

The team’s questionnaire on long COVID symptoms revealed one-third continued to experience fatigue one year later (34%), respiratory symptoms affecting quality of life (13%), and sleep issues (54%). One in seven respondents add they don’t believe they’ll be able to cope with their long COVID symptoms long-term.

“Our study offers a detailed description of symptoms persisting one year after COVID-19, according to the initial disease severity. It shows that long COVID can still have a large impact on quality of life, even a year after the acute infection. In general, the more severe the acute illness is, the more likely someone is to have ongoing symptoms; however, those with an asymptomatic or mild initial infection may also experience a deterioration in their quality of life,” Fischer concludes.

“We also highlighted that long COVID likely consists of multiple sub-categories, distinguished by particular combinations of symptoms. Finally, this work will help raise awareness of the needs of people with long COVID and contribute to the development of health strategies to help them.”

The team presented their findings at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID).