Health workers report ‘long COVID’ after only mild illness

Fifteen percent of health workers in a Swedish hospital who recovered from mild COVID-19 at least 8 months earlier reported at least one moderate to severe symptom that interfered with their work, home or social life, according to a research letter published yesterday in JAMA

A team led by scientists from Danderyd Hospital, part of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, conducted the study from April 2020 to January 2021. The study involved obtaining blood samples and administering questionnaires to health professionals participating in the ongoing COVID -19 Biomarker and Immunity (COMMUNITY) study.

Symptoms for at least 2 months at 26%

Of the 323 participants who were HIV positive or had antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, indicating prior infection, 26% reported that at least one moderate to severe symptom persisted for at least 2 months, compared with 9% of 1072 seronegative participants (risk ratio [RR], 2.9). Likewise, 15% of the seropositive and 3% of the seronegative participants said they had a persistent symptom for 8 months or more (RR, 4.4).

Of the HIV-positive participants, 8% said their persistent symptoms caused moderate to marked disruptions to their working life, compared with 4% of the seronegative group (RR, 1.8).

Likewise, 15% of the HIV-positive participants said their persistent symptoms disrupted their social life to a moderate to marked extent, compared with 6% of the seronegative group (RR, 2.5). And 12% of the seropositive group reported disturbances in their family life, compared to 5% of the seronegative group (RR, 2.3).

In addition to reporting at least one symptom that persisted for 8 months or more, 11% of the HIV-positive participants reported moderate to marked disturbance in each category of the Sheehan Disability Scale, compared with 2% of the seronegative group (RR, 4, 5).

Long-term lower quality of life

The most common symptoms that persisted for at least 2 months in the HIV-positive group were fatigue, loss of smell or taste, and shortness of breath.

“However, we do not see an increased prevalence of cognitive symptoms such as brain fatigue, memory and concentration problems, or physical impairments such as muscle and joint pain, palpitations or prolonged fever,” said senior author Charlotte Thalin, MD, PhD, said in a Karolinska Institute press release. .

Seropositive group members who said they had no or mild prior symptoms had a median age of 43 years and 83% were female, while the median age in the seronegative group was 47 years and 86% female.

Of the HIV-positive participants, 22% reported having chronic underlying conditions, compared to 24% of the seronegative group.

“The results of this study showed that a significant proportion of low-risk individuals with mild COVID-19 reported a variety of long-term symptoms, and that these symptoms interfered with work, social and private life”, wrote the authors. “Further research is needed to understand the mechanisms underlying COVID-19-related long-term sequelae.”

Lead author Sebastian Havervall, MD, said in the publication that the findings illustrate the serious long-term consequences of COVID-19, even after mild illness. “Despite the fact that the study participants had mild COVID-19 infection, a relatively high proportion of patients report long-term symptoms that affect quality of life,” he said.

“In light of this, we believe that young and healthy individuals, as well as other groups in society, should have great respect for the virus that appears to significantly affect quality of life, even for a long time after infection.”