One of the largest such studies to date found that one in twenty people had long-term effects following infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The study, which was just published in the journal Nature Communications, revealed that severe infections requiring hospitalisation were associated with a higher likelihood of long-COVID symptoms.
The most reported long-COVID symptoms included breathlessness, chest pain, palpitations, and confusion, or ‘brain fog’, the researchers said.
Long-COVID was also more likely in individuals who were older, female and those from deprived communities, they said.
According to the Long-CISS (COVID In Scotland Study), 1 in 20 study participants who were infected with SARS-CoV-2 between six and 18 months before to their most recent follow-up did not recover from having COVID-19.
In order to comprehend the long-term effects of COVID-19 and compare them to the health and welfare of those who had not yet been exposed, the CISS study was established in May 2021.
The University of Glasgow is the study’s principal investigator, working with Public Health Scotland, the Scottish National Health Service, and the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
The survey did not include specific information about each person’s partial recovery, but it is possible that it included a variety of mild to moderate symptoms and did not necessarily lead to a long COVID diagnosis.
The researchers discovered that asymptomatic infections had no long-term effects, and that COVID-19 vaccinations appeared to protect against some long-term symptoms in some individuals.
The study discovered, however, that the effects for those with long-COVID were extensive, with a wide range of symptoms, implications on many facets of daily living, and a decreased level of overall quality of life.
Additionally, long-COVID was more likely to occur in people with pre-existing medical and mental health issues, such as respiratory disease and depression.
The study discovered that although the majority of participants’ recovery status remained stable during the follow-up period, 13% of respondents reported improvement over time and 11% indicated some deterioration.
The Scottish population group included in the CISS study consisted of 33,281 people with laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 illnesses, who were matched with 62,957 people who had never been exposed to the virus.
Researchers were able to match hospitalisation and mortality records to follow-up questions given to both groups at six, twelve, and eighteen-month intervals.
All Scottish adults who had a positive COVID-19 test, as well as a sample of individuals who tested negative for the illness, were sent an SMS message inviting them to participate in the CISS study using NHS health data records.
Individuals were then asked to answer questions online about their health, both before and after COVID-19, to determine whether the virus has had any lasting effects on their lives.
“While most people recover quickly and completely after infection with COVID-19, some people develop a wide variety of long-term problems,” said Jill Pell, Professor of Public Health at the University of Glasgow, who leads the study.
“Therefore, understanding long-COVID is essential to inform health and social care support,” Pell said.
The study is significant because it advances our knowledge of long-COVID in the general populace, not just in individuals who require hospital admission due to COVID-19.
The researchers were able to discriminate between health issues that are caused by COVID-19 and those that would have occurred anyway by comparing symptoms with people who were not infected.
“This study provides novel and important evidence on long-COVID in Scotland,” said Andrew McAuley, Consultant Healthcare Scientist at Public Health Scotland.
“We know that being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can reduce the likelihood of developing long-COVID and therefore we encourage those who are eligible for the COVID vaccine to take the opportunity to enhance their protection by getting vaccinated,” McAuley added.