Most Covid-19 patients discharged from hospital still have symptoms a month later, according to SA’s first study of “long Covid”.
Fatigue was reported by more than two-thirds of the 1,448 people in the study published this week in a National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) bulletin.
A quarter of people reported problems with mobility and anxiety/depression ranging from mild to severe, and 85 individuals blamed long Covid for a change in occupation.
More than half told researchers who interviewed them on the telephone that they were eating more healthily, and one in five said they were drinking less alcohol.
Admission to intensive care, type 2 diabetes and asthma were linked to several manifestations of long Covid.
Discussing their findings, the 14 researchers said: “The high burden of persistent symptoms is concerning for SA due to the potential for placing an additional burden on an already overwhelmed healthcare system.”
The team plans to follow the progress of the patients for a year and said its work would contribute to the development of clinical guidelines, the establishment of multidisciplinary health services, training of healthcare workers and the provision of information and support to patients.
The SA research is part of an international study in which long Covid — the term being used until the World Health Organisation produces a universally accepted name and definition — has been found in between 29% and 93% of patients who have had acute Covid-19.
The SA subjects were identified through the Datcov hospital surveillance system developed by the NICD and the health department.
They had all been hospitalised for at least a day, tested positive and been discharged between December 2020 and April 2021. Two-thirds had been in private hospitals, and higher proportions came from the 40-64 age group and those who had been treated in ICU and given oxygen.
A month after being discharged, 82% reported symptoms, with the most common new symptoms being muscle weakness and confusion/lack of concentration. One-third of patients had four or more symptoms.
“There were significant associations between the presence and number of acute symptoms and breathlessness, persistent symptoms, non-recovery, disability and anxiety/depression,” said the researchers.
“These findings suggest that those with symptoms and those who had a greater number of symptoms during the acute infection are at greater risk of long Covid.”