A study by Swansea University has revealed that even though COVID-19 is associated with increased risks of post-infection conditions such as fatigue and embolism- the overall healthcare burden was low, with very few people experiencing adverse outcomes following COVID-19.
Published in BMC Medicine, the collaborative study, led by researchers at the National Centre for Population Health & Wellbeing Research, studied the data from 249,390 Welsh individuals with a positive PCR test.
Long COVID is a concern, and while most people who experience COVID-19 recover quickly, an unknown minority experience prolonged symptoms. This study aimed to explore the extent and nature of changes associated with COVID-19 infection in terms of healthcare use.
The research team observed healthcare contact in the 1-4 weeks and 5-24 weeks following a positive test compared to those who tested negative for the virus.
The team looked at primary outcomes, including post-viral illness and fatigue, as an indication of long-COVID. The team also explored secondary outcomes, including clinical terminology concepts for embolism, respiratory conditions, mental health conditions, fit notes, or hospital attendance.
Main findings from the study
- Fatigue and embolism were more likely to occur in all positive individuals in the first four weeks, while anxiety and depression were less likely.
- COVID-positive individuals continued to be more at risk of fatigue and embolism after four weeks.
- All positive individuals are at greater risk of post-viral illness after 4 weeks – however, only a very small minority of the study population were affected by post-viral illness.
- Those who had never been tested were significantly less likely to experience all the outcomes looked at in the study compared to those who had tested negative for COVID-19.
Dr Jon Kennedy, the lead author on the study, said: “Our research findings are reassuring that post-COVID adverse consequences do arise, but the overall number of people seeking healthcare for this is low.
It must be noted, though, that some adverse events such as embolism are serious and so clinicians should be aware of higher rates for a prolonged period in those who have had COVID. It is also important that healthcare professionals consider mental health post-COVID as this may be masked or diagnosed as long COVID, and patients may not receive the appropriate care.
This study is an important step toward understanding the health consequences of the virus and the subsequent demands on healthcare – and can help inform decisions on healthcare provision, policy-making and preparation for future pandemics.”