The longest follow-up study to date on COVID-19 showed that two years after infection, half of the patients who were admitted to hospital still have at least one symptom.

The study published yesterday in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine revealed that nearly 1,200 participants in China infected with the coronavirus that caused COVID-19 tend to have poorer health and quality of life than the general population.

The researchers from China-Japan Friendship Hospital, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Peking Union Medical College and Tsinghua University School of Medicine evaluated the health of 1,192 participants with acute COVID-19 treated at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, Hubei Province, between January 7 and May 29, 2020, at six months, 12 months, and two years.

The group, with a median age of 57 years at discharge, is assessed for a six-minute walking test, lab tests and questionnaires on symptoms, mental health, health-related quality of life, if they had returned to work, and health care use after discharge.

The study showed that six months after initially falling ill, 68 percent of them reported at least one long COVID symptom, and by two years after infection, 55 percent of them reported symptoms, such as fatigue, muscle weakness and sleep difficulties.

Also, their complaints included joint pain, palpitations, dizziness, headaches and anxiety or depression, according to the study.

“Our findings indicate that for a certain proportion of hospitalized COVID-19 survivors, while they may have cleared the initial infection, more than two years is needed to recover fully from COVID-19,” said the paper’s corresponding author Cao Bing with China-Japan Friendship Hospital.

The authors admitted the limitations, including the fact that those who did not participate in the study might have fewer symptoms than those who did, which may result in an overestimate of the prevalence of long COVID symptoms.

But there is a “clear need to provide continued support to a significant proportion of people who have had COVID-19,” Cao insisted.

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