As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, it has become clear that many survivors — even those who had mild cases — continue to manage a variety of health problems long after the initial infection should have resolved. In what is believed to be the largest comprehensive study of long COVID-19 to date, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis showed that COVID-19 survivors — including those not sick enough to be hospitalized — have an increased risk of death in the six months following diagnosis with the virus.
The researchers also have catalogued the numerous diseases associated with COVID-19, providing a big-picture overview of the long-term complications of COVID-19 and revealing the massive burden this disease is likely to place on the world’s population in the coming years.
The study, involving more than 87,000 COVID-19 patients and nearly 5 million control patients in a federal database, appears online April 22 in the journal Nature.
“Our study demonstrates that up to six months after diagnosis, the risk of death following even a mild case of COVID-19 is not trivial and increases with disease severity,” said senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, an assistant professor of medicine. “It is not an exaggeration to say that long COVID-19 — the long-term health consequences of COVID-19 — is America’s next big health crisis. Given that more than 30 million Americans have been infected with this virus, and given that the burden of long COVID-19 is substantial, the lingering effects of this disease will reverberate for many years and even decades. Physicians must be vigilant in evaluating people who have had COVID-19. These patients will need integrated, multidisciplinary care.”
In the new study, the researchers were able to calculate the potential scale of the problems first glimpsed from anecdotal accounts and smaller studies that hinted at the wide-ranging side effects of surviving COVID-19, from breathing problems and irregular heart rhythms to mental health issues and hair loss.