A new study reveals that individuals who survived Covid-19 during the pandemic, even before vaccines were introduced, were at a higher risk of health problems for up to two years after they recovered from their initial infections, as opposed to those who didn’t test positive and were admitted to the hospital.
The chronic health issues, which include heart problems, blood clots, diabetes, neurologic complications, fatigue, and mental health challenges, are collectively known as long Covid.
The risks associated with long Covid were weighed against the number of complications and interpreted into the DALY, which is one year of healthy life lost to illness.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease study indicates that long Covid leads to a higher disability burden than heart disease or cancer, which result in approximately 52 and 50 DALYs per 1,000 Americans, respectively.
Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, the director of the clinical epidemiology center at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System, shared his initial shock upon seeing the huge number.
Having carried out the analyses multiple times, we always return to the same findings.
Al-Aly stated that the findings were not surprising since long Covid has a wide range of effects on various parts of the body.
Al-Aly stressed the importance of taking infections seriously, despite their mild nature, as they can lead to chronic illness.
A study published in the journal Nature Medicine on Monday examined the medical records of almost 140,000 veterans who survived for 30 days after contracting a Covid-19 infection in 2020, and compared their health outcomes to those of nearly 6 million other patients inthe VA health system who had no evidence of infection.
The study has some important caveats: The VA health system’s average age for participants is in their 60s, and the vast majority of those participating are male; therefore, findings may not be applicable to women or younger adults.
Due to the lack of antiviral treatments for Covid-19 and the absence of vaccines, none of the participants in the study were vaccinated during their infection. However, previous research has shown that vaccination and early treatment can reduce long-term covde risk.
The study authors discovered that the Covid-19 infection group was only included in cases of positive test results, and therefore, early outbreaks of the pandemic were slow to happen. They suggest that some individuals may have had the infection but not had their test outcomes documented in their medical records, which could lead to them being part of a control group instead of an infection; however, this underestimated the actual risks people may face if they were in the true risk group.
Al-Aly’s decision to use the group was based on his desire to study the long-term effects of Covid-19 in patients. He also needed to identify individuals who were more than two years past their infection stage, which could have reduced these hazards as vaccines and better treatments became available.
The study provides a disturbing depiction of the duration of physical effects experienced by individuals with early infections.
Individuals who were not hospitalized with Covid-19 had a higher risk of death for approximately six months after becoming sick, as per the study.
Patients’ chances of experiencing prolonged Covid symptoms decreased over the next two years, but their levels remained elevated for approximately one-third of the 77 ailments examined. These problems included blood clots, a slower heartbeat, fatigue, diabetes, digestive and sleep issues, muscle and joint pain, headache, hearing and smell loss, and autonomic nervous system dysfunction.
The study’s scope and detail were praised by experts who were not involved in the researcher.
According to Dr. Linda Geng, the co-director of the Stanford post-acute Covid-19 Syndrome Clinic, individuals with COVID infection still face significant health problems even after two years of infection, which is a crucial factor.
The condition of those in the group who had to be hospitalized due to a first Covid-19 infection was even more severe. They were put at an increased risk of death and hospitalization for two years or more after overcoming their acute symptoms.
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Hospitalized individuals who experienced 77 Covid issues were still at high risk for approximately two years after being evaluated, with heart problems, stomach and memory challenges, memory and thinking difficulties, blood clots, diabetes, lung problems (hypocritmism, alcoholisimaemia, and opioid dependency), and suicide thoughts.
Geng’s clinic experience as a long-term Covid-19 patient patient is in line with the findings of the study.
She suggests that long Covid is a diverse set of issues that require recognition by individuals to realize that the findings of the study may not be relevant to their own circumstances.
Geng noted that there are individuals who experience improvement after a few weeks of symptoms, while others improve gradually over the next three to six months.
Geng noted that a person’s age, health before the start of Covid-19, vaccination status, and early antiviral use will all determine their place on the spectrum.
The Covid Long study conducted by Bryan Lau, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, was commended for its extensive data collection. However, he notes that the researchers were not able to communicate with patients and investigate any observed patterns using electronic medical records.
Lau, who was not involved in the study, pointed out that DALYs are a measure of disability in this population, but it differs from asking people to perform tasks such as climbing stairs or walking 0.5 miles.
Lau believes that while the study is impressive, it’s important to keep in mind that medical research typically focuses on evidence accumulation over time, rather than in any single study.
“I take everything with a pinch of salt, if necessary, until additional research becomes available,” he added.