Long COVID is a phenomenon with questions that still need answering, however, a new study from Israel may provide insight into the symptoms and severity of lingering COVID-19.
Long COVID is commonly referred to as patients still battling the aftereffects of COVID-19.
Individuals between the ages of 40 and 61 are more likely to suffer from long COVID symptoms.
Long COVID symptoms of loss of taste and smell are more prominent in unvaccinated individuals.
Israeli research evaluated symptoms of long COVID following infection of patients with mild disease symptoms.
Also, the probe investigated if age, sex, variants of SARS-COV-2, and vaccination status had impacts on long-COVID severity. The study titled Long Covid Outcomes at One Year After Mild SARS-CoV-2 Infection: Nationwide Cohort Study was published in the BMJ journal on January 11.
What is Long COVID?
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. The virus can spread person-to-person through respiratory droplets and small particles when an infected individual engages in conversation, sneezing, or coughing. Most of the symptoms go away after two weeks, while specific symptoms may linger in some cases.
In the United States, there have been over 101 million cases and 1.11 million deaths since the virus was introduced into the country in 2020.
Long COVID is also referred to as long-haul COVID and long-term effects of COVID. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), long COVID is more common in severe cases, with symptoms varying from weeks to years.
Recently, a study from Harvard found patients with COVID-19 may have accelerated brain aging. They found long COVID symptoms were present in those who had less severe infections of the disease. The new study from Israel provides much more substantial data compared to previous inquiries.
New long COVID findings
The primary goal of the new Israeli study was to compare the long-term effects of COVID-19 on various outcomes between uninfected individuals and those with mild COVID-19 symptoms.
Data for the study was acquired from the database of Maccabi Healthcare Services (MHS) — the second-largest health maintenance organization in Israel. The median age of the sample size was 25 years old and just slightly over half (50.6%) were female. The research included over 300,000 medical records.
All patients conducted PCR tests from March 1, 2020, through October 1, 2021, and all patients admitted to the hospital were dropped from the study.
The study evaluated 70 different health outcomes due to following COVID-19 in unvaccinated individuals, finding loss of taste and smell to be the most likely lingering symptoms of the virus over the span of a year.
Core risk factors from Long COVID:
- Shortness of breath
- Hair loss
- Heart alitations
- Muscle pain
- Loss of taste and smell
- Concentration and memory
Research says vaccinated people who became infected were at lower risk of prolonged symptoms of taste and smell than the vaccinated population. Despite this, the remaining risks were comparable between the two groups.
No significant differences in risk outcomes were noticed between the wild-type/alpha and the delta variants. Loss of taste and smell were persistent throughout the yearlong study in many patients struggling with variant forms of the virus.
Long COVID symptoms differ per age
The age group with the highest number of long COVID complications were those in the 41 to 60-year-old group, having increased battles with loss of taste in smell throughout the year-long period. Individuals in the 19 to 40 age group also showed an increased risk for loss of taste in smell in a year period following mild symptoms of COVID-19.
Senior citizens over 60 years of age noted an increase in hair loss duiring the early phase of the study, with shortness of breath listed as the main risk following a year review.
Children between the ages of 5 to 11 were more likely to suffer from strep throat in both the early and late phases of long COVID. Loss of taste and smell, weakness, and shortness of breath were notably present in the early phase. Strep throat was also significantly high in the early and late phases in pre-teens and teenagers ages 12 to 18. Researchers document elevated risk for pink eye and shortness of breath in the youngest age group (0-4 years old) in the early phase only.
The study from Israel was completed before the rise of the XBB. 1.5 variant which is becoming prominent in the U.S. The CDC says the XBB.1.5 variant is moving at a fast pace, and currently makes up 28% of COVID cases in the U.S. Individuals in the U.S. concerned about COVID-19 are able to order take-home COVID tests available at COVID.gov.