Study Finds Fewer Long COVID Symptoms in Omicron Patients

Along with COVID-19-like symptoms came the addition of long COVID, which is essentially having symptoms for an extensive period of time. A new Swiss study sheds light on those more likely to deal with long COVID symptoms.

Swiss researchers determined that healthcare workers diagnosed with the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 are less likely to suffer from symptoms of long COVID. Meanwhile, those who suffered an illness to the original wild-type virus were more likely to suffer symptoms.

The results will be shared at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Copenhagen from April 15 to 18.

What is long COVID?

Long COVID is also referred to as long-haul COVID and long-term effects of COVID. According to the CDC, long COVID is more common in severe cases, with symptoms varying from weeks to years.

Some long-COVID symptoms may include:

  • Change taste or smell
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Tiredness
  • Chest Pain
  • Headaches of dizziness
  • Anxiety or depression

An Israeli study published on January 11 says most long-COVID symptoms wane following a 12-month span. Loss of taste and smell is the most lingering symptom of COVID-19.

The study also shows long COVID may vary per age. Individuals aged 41 to 60 likely suffered from long COVID complications. Those in the younger age group, from 19 to 40 years old, 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 listed shortness of breath as the primary symptom following a year-long period.

However, another study finds long COVID symptoms may linger up to 18 months, longer than the 12 months suggested by the Israeli findings. The Swiss research provides more insight into long COVID that previous studies failed to accomplish.

New research behind long COVID

The Swiss research evaluated 1,201 previously infected and uninfected healthcare workers from nine various Swiss healthcare networks in March 2021 (Q1), September 2021 (Q2), and June 2022 (Q2). Ultimately, researchers discovered that infected healthcare workers infected with the Omicron BA.1 variant were as likely to suffer long COVID symptoms as those not infected.

Throughout the study, participants were required to complete regular testing for COVID-19 while completing questionnaires of symptoms. The most common arising symptoms following long COVID featured a loss of taste or smell, weakness, fatigue, and hair loss.

For those with wild-type COVID-19 infections, the risk of developing long COVID symptoms was 67% higher among the 157 healthcare workers versus those in the uninfected group. That number fell to 37% in Q3.

Compare that with the 429 healthcare workers who tested positive for the Omicron variant. No difference in long COVID symptoms between Omicron-infected individuals and uninfected individuals was discovered.

Carol Strahm, M.D., from the Division of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiology at Cantonal Hospital St Gallen in Switzerland, explains the findings in an ECCMID press release.

"We can only speculate as to why this was," Strahm says.

It’s probably due to a combination of the Omicron variant being less likely to cause severe illness than the wild-type virus — we know that long Covid is more common after severe illness — and immunity acquired through previous exposure to the virus through, for example, a subclinical infection without seroconversion.

Carol Strahm

Also, those infected with the Omicron variant following a wild-type infection did not have a greater chance of developing long COVID. The COVID-19 vaccine did not reduce the risk of developing long COVID in Omicron or wild-type virus infections.

For those who are battling the ongoing Omicron strain, this Swiss study provides a sense of relief from the fears of developing long COVID.

Strahm concludes, "With Omicron still dominant globally today, our results should provide reassurance to those who are contracting COVID-19 for the first time, as well as those who have already had the wild-type virus."

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