For this project, two studies were used to examine the statistics and demographics of COVID-19 patients in their recovery. One of them began at the start of the pandemic in Wuhan, China at Jin Yin-Tan Hospital. It is entitled, “1 Year Outcomes in Hospital Survivors with COVID-19: a Longitudinal Cohort Study.”
This study was conducted before anyone was aware of Long-COVID; it was simply tracking the recovery time of 1,276 hospitalized COVID-19 survivors. The researchers performed a series of tests and questionnaires at the six month mark and at the twelve month mark since contracting the virus. They also included a control group of people who matched the demographics, but did not test positive for COVID-19.
It should be made clear that this is not specifically a Long-COVID study and not every survivor in long-term recovery has Long-COVID. The patients in this study were hospitalized with a moderate to severe case, and some of the damage done in the acute stage can take time to heal. However, many of these participants likely had Long-COVID before anybody knew what was wrong and why they weren’t getting better.
The study found that most hospitalized survivors were recovered and in good health at their one year follow-up. But the researchers also discovered that those who were in the COVID-19 cohort were still at a lower health status than those in the control group.
In general, the study found that more people had lingering symptoms at six months, than they did at the one year follow-up. The proportion of patients with at least one lingering symptom went from sixty-eight percent at the six month mark to forty-nine percent at the one year mark. Eighty-eight percent of those who were employed before contracting COVID-19, returned to work at twelve months.
The WuHan hospital survivors with lingering symptoms, illustrates the affect gender can have on Long-COVID symptoms. “Compared with men, women had an odds ratio of 1·43 (95% CI 1·04–1·96) for fatigue or muscle weakness, 2·00 (1·48–2·69) for anxiety or depression, and 2·97 (1·50–5·88) for diffusion impairment,” (Huang et al).
One discouraging statistic, is that more anxiety, depression, and breathing issues were reported at the one year mark than at the six month mark. Huang explains further, what could contribute to this finding:
“The chronic or late-onset psychological symptoms after COVID-19 could be driven by a direct effect of virus infection and might be explained by several hypotheses including aberrant immune response, hyperactivation of the immune system, or autoimmunity,” (Huang et al). They also concluded there are additional lifestyle changes that could be contributing, such as isolation, job loss, or the emotional toll of becoming disabled.
The second study, led by Maxime Taquet, “Incidence, Co-occurence, and Evolution of Long-COVID Features,”addresses questions about the demographics of Long-COVID and the severity of symptoms. The study included 273,618 COVID-19 survivors and used patients based on the criteria of being within six months or less of contracting the virus. There were two cohorts: one made up of COVID-19 patients and the other made up of influenza patients (114,449 influenza patients).
The symptoms considered that of Long-COVID included: breathing difficulties, fatigue, chest/throat pain, headache, abdominal symptoms, myalgia, pain, cognitive symptoms, anxiety, and depression. The study refers to these symptoms as “features,” because some of them are a combination of symptoms and diagnoses. There is an important distinction between the first ninety days, and the period between 90-180 days, that the researchers make:
“If a patient has a feature recorded once in the acute phase of the illness and again a few months later, the latter occurrence would not count toward the incidence at later stages of follow-up,” they said. “This implies that in the 1-180 day follow-up, ongoing incidence after three months represents emergence of new Long-COVID features in an individual with no record of these features before,” (Taquet et al).
The researchers discovered that three months after recovering from COVID-19, patients can still develop brand new features. The study revealed that two out of five participants had symptoms in the three to six month mark they had not previously experienced.
It also concluded that the risk of Long-COVID was higher among females and young adults, as well as in those who had a more severe case. Females were much more likely to have headaches, abdominal symptoms, anxiety, and depression. Males, on the other hand, were significantly more likely to have cognitive symptoms and breathing difficulties.
In terms of age, older patients had more difficulty with breathing, pain, fatigue, and cognitive symptoms. Younger patients experienced more headaches, abdominal symptoms, and anxiety/depression. Elderly patients were more likely in general to develop Long-COVID features. The researchers did note that half of the non-hospitalized patients in the study experiencing Long-COVID features were young adults and children. In addition, they observed that there was no difference in these statistics among races.