Number of COVID-19 symptoms you have could determine how long you’re sick, study says
For some, coronavirus infection means an annoying cough, low fever, and fatigue for a week; for others, the virus camps out and drowns them with symptoms that can last for months.
Scientists call these people long-haul drivers, and research now suggests that the number of symptoms a person has can potentially predict how long a person's disease might last.
In a study of more than 4,000 people from the US, UK and Sweden, researchers found that more than five symptoms in the first week of coronavirus illness were associated with what they call "long COVID."
And of the thousands of participants, those who had symptoms for more than 28 days - what the researchers considered a long-term infection - were "consistently older, more feminine, and more likely to require a hospital examination" than those who reported symptoms for less than 10 days Days.
The study has yet to be peer-reviewed. It was published in pre-print medRxiv on October 21.
"At the population level, it is important to quantify exposure to long-COVID in order to better assess the impact on the health system and appropriately allocate resources," the researchers from University College London said in their article.
"In our study, from prospectively recording a wide variety of symptoms, we concluded that the proportion of people with symptomatic COVID-19 who experience persistent symptoms is significant and relatively stable in three countries with different cultures," said the Respondents continue.
The researchers asked 4,182 people with COVID-19 between March 25 and June 30 to record their symptoms in a "COVID Symptom Study App" on their mobile devices.
A total of 558 people had symptoms that lasted more than 28 days, 189 symptoms lasted more than 8 weeks, and 95 people had symptoms longer than 12 weeks.
Meanwhile, 1,591 people had a short illness.
The five symptoms that appeared during the first week of illness that best indicated persistent illness in both men and women were fatigue, headache, difficulty breathing, hoarse voice, and muscle pain.
Asthma was the only "unique" pre-existing disease that was "significantly linked to long-term COVID," the researchers said.
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Other symptoms and conditions associated with "long COVID" included loss of smell, which was the most predictive symptom of persistent illness in adults over 70, and an increased body mass index, the study said.
The researchers also analyzed "free text responses" from participants who sent them and found that cardiac symptoms such as palpitations and rapid heartbeat were more common in long-distance drivers (6%) than those with brief symptom experience (0.5%).
Memory and concentration problems as well as ear pain and ringing in the ears were also more common among long-distance drivers - 4% versus 0.2% and 3.6% versus 0.2%, respectively.
Other important results of the study concern age and gender.
The risk of "long COVID" increased from 10% in 18 to 49 year olds to 22% in over 70 year olds. Longer illness also affected women (15%) more than men (10%), but women between the ages of 50 and 60 had the highest chances of experiencing it.
However, the researchers note that the gender differences could be explained by the fact that more women use the app to report symptoms than men. People over 70 were also underrepresented in the study, "which may increase or decrease our estimate of the extent of long COVID".
The study failed to examine risk factors for COVID-19 beyond two months, and the team failed to analyze how different ethnicities played a role in disease duration.
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