An analysis of data from 50 studies looking at 1.6 million people suggests that as much as 43 per cent of those infected with the coronavirus experienced post-Covid conditions, pointing to the need for better diagnosis and care for “long Covid” patients.
Post-Covid conditions are clinically defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as mid- and long-term symptoms – also known as long Covid – occurring in individuals after infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The research, published this week in the Journal of Infectious Disease, assessed 23 symptoms reported across 36 of the studies and found that shortness of breath, sleep problems, and joint pain was widely reported by those who had recovered from the novel coronavirus infection.
Scientists analysed the prevalence of this condition globally and regionally, estimating the proportion of individuals facing long Covid in Asia, Europe and North America.
They found that the global prevalence for post-Covid conditions at 30, 60, 90 and 120 days after infection was about 37, 25, 32, and 49 per cent respectively.
Researchers say fatigue (23 per cent) and memory problems (14 per cent) were the most common symptoms of individuals experiencing post-Covid conditions.
“I was really surprised to see the results of this meta-analysis, and in particular that fatigue and memory problems were the two most commonly reported post-Covid conditions,” study co-author Bhramar Mukherjee from the University of Michigan School of Public Health said.
Watch: Woman shares her ‘long, difficult' experience of Long Covid
It was educational to learn about long COVID studies across the world through this meta-analysis. So many people are struggling with fatigue, memory problems and other conditions after COVID, the healthcare system and society needs to support them.https://t.co/Ufpl28pj1e
— Bhramar Mukherjee (@BhramarBioStat) April 17, 2022
While about 34 per cent of non-hospitalised coronavirus patients report lingering post-Covid symptoms, scientists say this rate jumps to over 50 per cent for hospitalised Covid patients.
Asia has the highest post-Covid condition prevalence at 51 per cent, according to the study. This was followed by Europe at 44 per cent, and North America at 31 per cent.
The study highlights the changing landscape of Covid-19 due to new variants that may have implications for the prevalence of long Covid and symptom burden in the future.
It also points out the variation across the world in long Covid diagnosis which makes it challenging to synthesise studies.
“Long Covid is quite common overall and across geographic regions, sex and acute COVID-19 severity. Knowing this, providers should take proactive approaches such that their patients are well-supported when experiencing long-term health effects of Covid-19,” scientists wrote in the study.
Citing the limitations of the analysis, researchers said they only considered studies written in English, which may have excluded those written in other languages.
Scientists also noted that a bias in testing for Covid-19 across the world, especially in the early stages of the pandemic, may have affected the characteristics of the positive cohort included in the meta-analysis.
“Future research needs to further explore risk factors and 2 duration, as these are generally critical components in screening patients for increased risk of 3 developing post Covid-19 condition, and in devising an appropriate treatment protocol,” they added.