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More than three-quarters of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Wuhan between January and May had at least one persistent symptom six months later, according to a report that forebodes the enduring pain of the pandemic.
Almost two-thirds of those followed still experienced fatigue or muscle weakness half a year after their acute illness, while 26% had sleep difficulties and 23% had anxiety or depression, according to the peer-reviewed study of 1,733 patients in The Lancet medical journal.
The research from China underscores the long-term effects for individuals and societies as infections surge across the world despite budding vaccination campaigns. It also highlights the growing need for sustained care for large swaths of populations and research into the new disease’s lingering effects, according to Bin Cao, a lung specialist at the National Clinical Research Center for Respiratory Diseases in China and one of the authors.
Beyond that, the study adds credence to worries about the possibility of reinfections among those who have recovered. The researchers analyzed levels of neutralizing antibodies — immune proteins that the body normally makes in response to viruses that can ward off repeat illness. In a group of 94 patients, levels of these antibodies fell by an average of 53% during the six-month study period after their sickness peaked.
In addition to causing pneumonia, the virus is known to affect the kidneys, heart, blood vessels and other tissues. Lab tests showed that 13% of patients whose kidneys appeared healthy during their hospital stays had reduced function in the follow-up examination.
For many hard-hit patients, lung function was still compromised half a year later. More than half of people who required ventilation had a reduced flow of oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream, while about a quarter of others had that problem.
Patients with severe disease also performed worse in a six-minute walking test, with about a quarter of them unable to reach the lower distance limit of the normal range, the study said.
The study followed patients discharged from Jin Yin-tan Hospital in Wuhan, where the virus emerged, and their median age was 57.
“There are few reports on the clinical picture of the aftermath of COVID-19,” researchers from the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan said in an accompanying comment, and the Wuhan study is “therefore relevant and timely.”
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