Two-thirds have long COVID symptoms 7 weeks after discharge © Getty Images

Two-thirds have long COVID symptoms 7 weeks after hospital discharge

Researchers say long COVID is a real phenomenon and further research is needed to understand how COVID-19 symptoms can be treated in the long-term.

More than two-thirds of patients hospitalised due to coronavirus continue to suffer from debilitating symptoms more than seven weeks after being discharged, a new study suggests.

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Researchers found that 54 days after discharge, 69 per cent of patients were still experiencing fatigue, and 53 per cent were suffering from persistent breathlessness. They also found that 34 per cent still had a cough and 15 per cent reported depression.

In addition, 38 per cent of chest radiographs (X-rays) remained abnormal and 9 per cent were getting worse, according to the study carried out in collaboration with clinicians at the Royal Free London (RFL) and University College London Hospitals NHS Trust (UCLH).

However, the researchers cannot determine if these features are unique to COVID-19. They may simply be similar to those following admission for other critical respiratory illnesses.

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Dr Swapna Mandal, an honorary clinical associate professor at UCL division of medicine, said the data shows so-called “long COVID” is a real phenomenon and that further research is needed to understand how the symptoms of COVID-19 can be treated in the long-term.

“Patients whose COVID-19 illness is serious enough for them to require hospital care often continue to suffer significant symptoms for many weeks after their discharge,” she said.

In the study published in the medical journal Thorax, clinical teams set up a post-COVID follow up clinic to review both the psychological and physiological symptoms of discharged patients.

In total, they observed 384 patients who had tested positive and had been treated at Barnet Hospital, the Royal Free Hospital or UCLH. Collectively the average length of stay in hospital was 6.5 days.

All of the patients were called or seen in person by a member of the clinical team on average 54 days after they had left hospital. Some further face-to-face clinical appointments were required for patients needing rehabilitation and/or further investigation.

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The research suggests that for those patients whose chest X-ray was still showing signs of infection when they were discharged, 62 per cent had a normal x-ray when it was repeated.

The remainder (38 per cent) were still showing changes. Almost one in ten (9 per cent) of these patients had an X-ray which was worse than when they were discharged, researchers found.

The scientists note a number of limitations to their study including that the study only included patients who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and that patients requiring prolonged ICU and in-patient stay may be under-represented in the analysis.

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They add that not all participants were willing to take part in the review or attend for investigations which potentially introduced selection bias.

How can I protect myself from the coronavirus when shopping?

You’ll have seen signs in your local supermarket advising you to keep two metres from others while moving around the store. This is key to reducing your chances of catching the virus while shopping.

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is spread through respiratory droplets that leave our mouth and nose when we cough, sneeze, or sometimes even talk. The droplets sprayed out by an infected person will contain the virus, which could then enter your body via your mouth, nose or eyes (this is why you shouldn’t be touching your face).

Respiratory droplets don’t usually travel more than one metre, so by keeping two metres from others, you’ll reduce the likelihood of being in the firing line. To make it easier to keep your distance, try to shop during off-peak hours, choose a store that’s limiting the number of people who can be inside at any one time, and use self-checkout if you can.

Keeping your hands clean is the other main thing you can do. If possible, wipe the trolley or basket handles with a disinfectant wipe when you arrive at the store. When you get home, wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before and after unpacking your bags.

A US study found that the coronavirus can survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to three days on hard, shiny surfaces such as plastic, so wiping down your purchases with a disinfectant spray or a soapy cloth before you put them away is another good habit to get into.

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