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COVID-19 symptoms persist after acute infection

A new observational study suggests that COVID-19 symptoms can persist for at least two months after the initial infection.

Italian doctors established a post-acute outpatient services for patients discharged from hospital and who had been infected with COVID-19. The analysis included 143 patients (37% female) with a mean age of 56.5 years (ranging from 18 to 84). During hospitalisation, 72% of patients had evidence of interstitial pneumonia and the mean duration of their hospital stay was 13.5 days. In addition, all patients had at least two negative test results for COVID-19, 24 hours apart.

At enrolment, all patients completed a standardised questionnaire on current symptoms as well as an assessment of their quality of life. Patients were assessed 60 days after the onset of their first COVID-19 symptoms.

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After 60 days, only 18 (12.6%) were completely symptom-free whereas 32% still had one or two symptoms and more than half (55%) had three or more symptoms. The main symptoms reported were fatigue (53%), dyspnoea (43%), joint pain (27%) and chest pain (21%). Furthermore, 44% actually reported a worsening of their quality of life.

Although this study had a small sample size and was limited to a single hospital, the authors suggested that clinicians need to focus not only on the acute symptoms but should continue to monitor patients after discharge.

Carfi A et al. Persistent symptoms in patients after acute COVID-19. JAMA 2020; Jul 9 doi:10.1001/jama.2020.12603.