A global systematic analysis of the occurrence, severity, and recovery pattern of long COVID in 2020 and 2021.
IMPORTANCE While much of the attention on the COVID-19 pandemic was directed at the daily counts of cases and those with serious disease overwhelming health services, increasingly, reports have appeared of people who experience debilitating symptoms after the initial infection. This is popularly known as long COVID. OBJECTIVE To estimate by country and territory of the number of patients affected by long COVID in 2020 and 2021, the severity of their symptoms and expected pattern of recovery. DESIGN We jointly analyzed ten ongoing cohort studies in ten countries for the occurrence of three major symptom clusters of long COVID among representative COVID cases. The defining symptoms of the three clusters (fatigue, cognitive problems, and shortness of breath) are explicitly mentioned in the WHO clinical case definition. For incidence of long COVID, we adopted the minimum duration after infection of three months from the WHO case definition. We pooled data from the contributing studies, two large medical record databases in the United States, and findings from 44 published studies using a Bayesian meta-regression tool. We separately estimated occurrence and pattern of recovery in patients with milder acute infections and those hospitalized. We estimated the incidence and prevalence of long COVID globally and by country in 2020 and 2021 as well as the severity-weighted prevalence using disability weights from the Global Burden of Disease study. RESULTS Analyses are based on detailed information for 1906 community infections and 10526 hospitalized patients from the ten collaborating cohorts, three of which included children. We added published data on 37262 community infections and 9540 hospitalized patients as well as ICD-coded medical record data concerning 1.3 million infections. Globally, in 2020 and 2021, 144.7 million (95% uncertainty interval [UI] 54.8-312.9) people suffered from any of the three symptom clusters of long COVID. This corresponds to 3.69% (1.38-7.96) of all infections. The fatigue, respiratory, and cognitive clusters occurred in 51.0% (16.9-92.4), 60.4% (18.9-89.1), and 35.4% (9.4-75.1) of long COVID cases, respectively. Those with milder acute COVID-19 cases had a quicker estimated recovery (median duration 3.99 months [IQR 3.84-4.20]) than those admitted for the acute infection (median duration 8.84 months [IQR 8.10-9.78]). At twelve months, 15.1% (10.3-21.1) continued to experience long COVID symptoms. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE The occurrence of debilitating ongoing symptoms of COVID-19 is common. Knowing how many people are affected, and for how long, is important to plan for rehabilitative services and support to return to social activities, places of learning, and the workplace when symptoms start to wane. KEY POINTS Question: What are the extent and nature of the most common long COVID symptoms by country in 2020 and 2021?Findings: Globally, 144.7 million people experienced one or more of three symptom clusters (fatigue; cognitive problems; and ongoing respiratory problems) of long COVID three months after infection, in 2020 and 2021. Most cases arose from milder infections. At 12 months after infection, 15.1% of these cases had not yet recovered.Meaning: The substantial number of people with long COVID are in need of rehabilitative care and support to transition back into the workplace or education when symptoms start to wane.
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(2022) , p. 1-52
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Creation 22.04.2024
Last edited 22.04.2024
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