ICMR study finds, how long can prolonged Covid symptoms last?

COVID-19, or Coronavirus Disease 2019, is an infectious illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The first documented case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. Subsequently, the disease swiftly spread across the globe, marking the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) unveiled that a noteworthy portion of individuals recovering from COVID-19 encountered health complications.

Covid symptoms

How long can prolonged Covid symptoms last?

The study, drawing data from a hospital-based registry encompassing 8,042 patients across 31 healthcare facilities in India from September 2020 to October 2022, disclosed that 18.6% of individuals grappled with difficulty in breathing (dyspnea), 10.5% reported fatigue, and 9.3% experienced mental health issues post-hospital discharge. The research aimed to effectively manage post-COVID morbidities, involving follow-up telephone interviews with patients for up to one year after their discharge.

The Union Health Ministry defines post-COVID syndrome as a condition emerging during the infection, persisting for more than 12 weeks after recovery, and remaining unexplained. Dr. Samiran Panda, an ICMR scientist and the study’s author, stressed the importance of analyzing post-COVID complications to minimize long-term morbidity and mortality. The study’s objective was to estimate the frequency of post-COVID sequelae and design a framework for holistic management of post-COVID morbidities.

Dr. Panda underscored the significance of the study, particularly in managing patients with pre-existing conditions who face a higher risk of death. The study indicated that dyspnea, fatigue, and mental health issues decreased from the first follow-up at 30–60 days after discharge to the one-year follow-up. Additionally, patients who died within 90 days post-discharge were typically older with at least one comorbidity, and a higher proportion had required intensive care unit admission during their initial hospitalization for COVID-19. The study also noted that receiving at least one dose of an anti-COVID vaccine was protective against post-discharge mortality.

The analysis of post-COVID-19 symptoms was categorized based on the three waves of the pandemic — alpha, delta, and omicron. According to Dr. Panda, “Omicron was a less symptom-producing variant; however, the earlier variants in the first and second waves were more aggressive. By the time Omicron came, the entire population was exposed to COVID, which helped in developing immunity to the population.” The study underscored that among those who succumbed to the illness, a significantly higher proportion were aged above 60 years (44.2% vs. 30.7%), had at least one comorbidity (68.2% vs. 52.3%), and had required ICU admission during their hospital stay (29% vs. 11.7%) compared to survivors. Additionally, the study noted that a definitive cause of death was available for only 137 patients, with the majority (64.2%) attributed to cardiac causes, including heart failure and myocardial infarction. Respiratory failure and septic shock were responsible for 19% and 10.9% of participant deaths, respectively.