Many COVID-19 “long distance carriers” experience at least four persistent neurological symptoms, such as mental confusion, headache and loss of sense of smell or taste, even if they were never hospitalized for their initial illness, according to a new study.
For the study, published Tuesday (March 23) in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, the researchers analyzed information from 100 COVID-19 long-haul carriers from 21 states. These patients were seen via telehealth or in person at the Neuro COVID-19 Clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago from May to November 2020. None of the patients had been hospitalized when they initially became ill with Symptoms similar to COVID-19, and all had experienced persistent symptoms for more than six weeks. On average, patients were seen four to five months after their initial illness.
Half of the participants had previously tested positive for COVID-19, while the other half had tested negative but had symptoms consistent with COVID-19. The authors note that early in the pandemic, getting tested for COVID-19 was difficult for patients who did not require hospitalization, and these patients may have cleared the infection when they were tested.
Related: ‘We just didn’t have answers’: COVID-19 ‘long-haul carriers’ still know why they’re sick
Overall, 85% of the participants reported at least four neurological symptoms. The most common symptom was “brain fog” or trouble thinking, reported by 81% of the participants; followed by headaches, reported by 68%; and numbness or tingling, reported by 60% of the participants. More than half reported having problems with their sense of taste or smell; 47% reported dizziness; 30% reported blurred vision; and 29% reported ringing in the ears.
Other common, but not neurological, symptoms included fatigue, depression and anxiety, insomnia, and gastrointestinal symptoms.
In many patients, their symptoms fluctuated, or came and went, for months. When asked how much they felt they had recovered to their pre-COVID-19 level, on average, patients said they felt that only 64% had recovered after about five months.
“Our study indicates that ‘long COVID-19’ is a major emerging entity requiring multidisciplinary expertise and care,” the authors wrote in their article. It’s unclear how many people have COVID for a long time, but some studies suggest that about 30% of people with COVID-19 experience persistent symptoms for up to nine months after their diagnosis, Live Science previously reported.
“Although we do not know the exact number of people who are affected by prolonged COVID,
probably millions of people in the US are affected by this syndrome, and this is affecting their quality of life and cognitive function, “said lead study author Dr. Igor Koralnik, chief of Neuroinfectious Diseases and Global Neurology Northwestern Medicine press conference.
More studies are needed to determine the causes of long-term COVID-19 and to help researchers find appropriate treatments for the condition, the authors noted.
Interestingly, more than 40% of the participants reported experiencing depression and anxiety prior to their COVID-19 diagnosis, suggesting that this may be a risk factor for prolonged COVID, the authors said. Additionally, 16% reported having an autoimmune disease prior to their COVID-19 diagnosis, which is twice as high as the prevalence of autoimmune disorders in the general population, and suggests that an autoimmune mechanism may play a role in prolonged COVID they said. .
About 70% of the participants were women, which is consistent with the sex ratio seen in some other autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, which affects three times more women than men, the authors said.
The authors note that their study was small and most of the patients were Caucasian, so the finding may not apply to the general population. It is also possible that some patients who tested negative for COVID-19 were not infected with the virus. Researchers are studying ways to improve the diagnosis of COVID-19 for those who were previously infected; for example, they are studying how certain immune cells react to coronavirus proteins, which can help identify people who were already infected.
Originally posted on Live Science.
Originally posted on Live Science.