Nearly half of coronavirus patients in a large, new study were still suffering at least one lingering symptom of their illness a full year after being hospitalized for COVID-19.
The latest findings add to a growing pile of evidence that suggests recovery is no easy task with this virus.
Published Thursday in The Lancet journal, the study involved just over 1,200 patients admitted to Jin Yin-tan Hospital in the pandemic's city of origin, Wuhan, China. All of the patients were discharged between Jan. 7 and May 29, 2020. Their average age was 57.
After first looking at the patients six months after hospitalization, the researchers found that while many symptoms improved over time and many of the 479 people who had been employed when they got COVID-19 had returned to work, 49 percent still struggled with at least one health problem.
Twelve months later, shortness of breath and mental health issues such as anxiety or depression were slightly more prevalent than at the six-month mark, with the reasons for that "worrying" increase unclear, the study authors noted.
Patients in the study were also compared with people in the community who had not had COVID-19 but had similar pre-existing health conditions. After 12 months, COVID survivors had worse overall health than people who had not been infected. They were also much more likely to be experiencing pain or discomfort, anxiety or depression, and mobility problems than those who had been spared a COVID-19 infection.
During the course of the study, the patients were given physical exams, lab tests and a standard measure of endurance and aerobic capacity called a six-minute walk test. They were also interviewed about their health.
While the study involved patients who were sick enough to be hospitalized, they were generally not the most severely ill. Roughly 75% required supplemental oxygen when they were hospitalized, but most did not need intensive care, ventilators or even high-flow nasal oxygen.
Women were more likely than men to struggle with mental health issues and lung problems. One of the most common symptoms was fatigue or muscle weakness, reported by 20 percent of patients. But that was a big drop from the 52 percent who reported such symptoms six months after hospitalization.
In people who were more severely ill, shortness of breath was more common, but that didn't hold true for all symptoms. One example: 244 patients underwent a lung function test that found that from six months to one year after hospitalization, there was no decrease in how many showed reduced flow of oxygen from their lungs to their bloodstream, no matter how sick they had been while infected.
An editorial that accompanied the study stressed the urgency in understanding these lingering symptoms, a condition that has been coined "long COVID" by medical experts.
"The need to understand and respond to long COVID is increasingly pressing," the editorial said. "Symptoms such as persistent fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog, and depression could debilitate many millions of people globally."
"Long COVID is a modern medical challenge of the first order," the editorial added.
Moderna Readies for Full Vaccine Approval, as Pfizer Submits Data on Booster Shot
Moderna Inc. announced Wednesday that it has completed its submission for full approval of its coronavirus vaccine, while Pfizer Inc. said it has begun to file data for full approval of a third booster shot of its vaccine.
"This BLA [biologics license application] submission for our COVID-19 vaccine, which we began in June, is an important milestone in our battle against COVID-19 and for Moderna, as this is the first BLA submission in our company's history," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement. "We are pleased that our COVID-19 vaccine is showing durable efficacy of 93% through six months after dose 2."
Right now, the Moderna vaccine is only authorized for emergency use in Americans 18 and older. The company has also asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine in people aged 12 and older.
Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine would be the second to be fully approved by the FDA. On Monday, the agency approved the Pfizer vaccine for people aged 16 and older, opening the door to more vaccine mandates as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads rapidly through unvaccinated populations.
The approval process typically takes months, but the FDA moved resources around to approve the Pfizer vaccine in less time, CNN reported.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said Monday that the agency worked around the clock to conduct its own analyses and inspect facilities, completing all the same work it would for any approval, CNN reported.
"It's actually 97 days since Pfizer completed the role of its BLA and the clock started, which means that we completed this in about 40% of the normal clock time for a submission of this magnitude," Marks said.
As for its booster shot, Pfizer said Wednesday it plans to complete the submission of a supplemental BLA for a third dose of its vaccine by the end of this week.
In a statement, the company described a trial of 306 people who got a booster between nearly five and eight months after getting the second dose. It found it generated much higher levels of antibodies and was safe, with "mild to moderate" effects, most commonly including injection site pain, fatigue, headache, muscle and joint pain and chills.
Pfizer said it will next submit the data to a peer-reviewed journal and also file it with the European Medicines Agency and other regulatory authorities around the world in the coming weeks.
A third dose of the vaccine is now available in the United States to people aged 12 and older who are immunocompromised.
U.S. health officials recently announced the government planned to make booster doses available to fully vaccinated individuals eight months after receiving their second dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. They said booster doses would start the week of Sept. 20, pending final approval from the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.