Two studies published yesterday further reveal the extent of COVID-19's potential aftermath, with one showing residual organ damage 1 year after diagnosis—even in those who were mildly ill—and the other finding persistent lung abnormalities on chest imaging at 2 years.
59% had organ impairment at 1 year
In a study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, British researchers assessed organ impairment in 536 long-COVID patients still reporting extreme shortness of breath, brain fog, and poor health-related quality of life (HRQoL) 1 year after diagnosis. Of all participants, 13% had been hospitalized at symptom onset, and 32% were healthcare workers.
Sixty-two percent of participants had organ damage 6 months after their initial diagnosis, as did 59% of those who underwent a 40-minute multi-organ magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan at 1 year—even those with non-severe infections.
Among all patients, 29% had multi-organ impairment, with lingering symptoms and impaired function at 6 and 12 months, while 59% of long-COVID patients had single-organ damage at 1 year.
Long-COVID symptoms declined from 6 to 12 months, with extreme shortness of breath dropping from 38% to 30% of patients, brain fog from 48% to 38%, and poor HRQoL from 57% to 45%.
"Several studies confirm persistence of symptoms in individuals with long COVID up to one year," senior author Amitava Banerjee, MBBS, DPhil, of University College London, said in a news release from Sage, which publishes the journal. "We now add that three in five people with long COVID have impairment in at least one organ, and one in four have impairment in two or more organs, in some cases without symptoms."
Banerjee noted that many healthcare workers were previously healthy, but 19 of 172 of them still had symptoms at 1 year and were unable to work for a median of 6 months. "Impact on quality of life and time off work, particularly in healthcare workers, is a major concern for individuals, health systems and economies," he said.