April 23, 2021 – Patients with long-term COVID-19 face many health threats – including a higher risk of dying – for up to 6 months after catching the virus, according to a massive study published in review Nature.
A second study, released by the CDC on Friday, also found symptoms that persisted months later in patients with COVID-19 who originally had mild symptoms.
For the Nature study, researchers examined more than 87,000 COVID-19 patients and nearly 5 million control patients in a federal database. They found that patients with COVID-19 had a 59% higher risk of death for up to 6 months after infection, compared to uninfected people.
These results translate to about eight additional deaths per 1,000 patients over 6 months, as many deaths caused by long-term COVID complications go unrecorded as COVID-19 deaths, the researchers said. Among those hospitalized and who died after more than 30 days, there were 29 additional deaths per 1,000 patients over 6 months.
“When it comes to the total number of deaths from a pandemic, these numbers suggest that the deaths we count from the immediate viral infection are just the tip of the iceberg,” Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, lead author of the study and director of the Center for Clinical Epidemiology of the St. Louis Veterans Health Care System, said in a press release from Washington University St. Louis School of Medicine. .
Johns Hopkins University says more than 3 million people worldwide and an estimated 570,000 people in the United States have died from reasons related to the coronavirus.
Long-distance COVID patients also had a much higher risk of getting sick, and not just in the respiratory system, according to the study.
The patients had a high rate of strokes and other nervous system conditions; mental health problems such as depression; the onset of diabetes; heart disease and other coronary problems; diarrhea and digestive disorders; kidney disease; blood clots; articular pain; hair loss; and general fatigue.
Patients often presented with clusters of these conditions. And the more severe the case of COVID-19, the higher the risk of long-term health problems, according to the study.
The researchers based their study on the US Department of Veterans Affairs health care databases. In addition to the 87,000 COVID patients, the database included around 5 million patients who did not catch COVID. The study’s veterans were around 88% male, but the large sample size included 8,880 women with confirmed cases, according to the press release.
Al-Aly, an assistant professor in the Washington University School of Medicine, said the study shows long-term COVID-19 could be “America’s next great health crisis.”
“Our study shows that up to 6 months after diagnosis, the risk of death from even a mild case of COVID-19 is not trivial and increases with the severity of the disease,” he said. “Since more than 30 million Americans have been infected with this virus, and given that the burden of long-term COVID-19 is considerable, the lingering effects of this disease will reverberate for many years, if not decades.”
Meanwhile, the CDC released a new study on Friday of people who had milder cases of COVID-19. He found that nearly two-thirds of them returned to the doctor within 6 months of their initial infections with new symptoms.
The study validates the accounts of many COVID-19 long carriers who say they are still sick months later despite their initial infections having been mild.
More than 3,100 cases were reviewed for the study. None of the patients had been hospitalized for their initial infections. The study found that nearly 70%, or 2,100 people, with mild infections treated by the Kaiser Permanente healthcare system in Georgia returned to the doctor 1 to 6 months after this initial diagnosis, and nearly 40% needed to see a specialist.
Compared to people who did not return to the doctor after recovering from their initial infections, long carriers were more likely to be African Americans, women, and people over 50. About 10% of them received a second diagnosis with an active COVID infection.
“Healthcare providers used the diagnosis of active infection to indicate that the effects of COVID-19 were affecting medical care at the time of the visit,” said study author Alfonso Hernandez-Romieu, MD , in an email. “Therefore, it cannot be determined whether the patients might have had symptoms of reinfection with SARS-CoV-2, rather than persistent symptoms of COVID-19,” said Hernandez-Romieu, who is part of the CDC clinical team studying long-term complications from COVID-19.
Pulmonologists, cardiologists, neurologists and mental health professionals were among the most frequently consulted specialties.
The authors of the study say doctors should be aware that patients who come to them may have new symptoms related to a previous diagnosis of COVID.