Younger female patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 are five times more likely than their male counterparts to still be suffering with symptoms seven months after their onset, early research suggests.
Preliminary results from an ongoing study in the UK also found that this cohort, women and girls aged 50 and under, were also five times more likely than men to report a new disability in the months that followed their release from hospital.
The findings have been published by the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies and come from the observational ISARIC study, which examines and investigates thousands of British patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 throughout the pandemic.
Of the 325 patients who participated in the analysis, 77 per cent reported that they were suffering from fatigue an average of seven months after being infected, while 54 per cent still had shortness of breath.
Some 24 per cent of respondents to the study’s questionnaire reported a new disability. This included a “significant deterioration” in sight, walking, memory, self-care and communication, but not hearing.
The researchers said the patients were admitted to 31 different UK hospitals between 5 February and 4 October. Originally, 905 participants consented to follow-up, but only 361 (40 per cent) responded.
Thirty-six (four per cent) responded three months after the onset of their symptoms or returned incomplete questionnaires, leaving 325 (36 per cent) participants in the current analysis.
The mean average age of the cohort was 59 years old and was predominantly male (59 per cent), while the median follow-up time was seven months.
In minutes taken from a Sage meeting held on 25 February, the government’s scientists said “there may be some responder bias” to the study “as individuals who experienced symptoms (or more significant symptoms) may have been more likely to respond.”
Chief investigator Calum Semple, a professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, also cautioned that the findings were a “preliminary ‘first look’ at the data from an ongoing study” shared with ministers “as a ‘signal’ rather than a ‘message’.”
“The academic output is in preparation and will include more data, refined analysis, and incorporate additional interpretation,” he told The Independent.
He said the preliminary data had only appeared in the public landscape because of the transparency of Sage, and has yet to be peer-reviewed.
The study added that overall recovery was worse in patients who had required invasive ventilation, compared to those who had not required any form of oxygen support.
Outcomes were worse in females versus males, it added. Female patients aged under 50 were five times more likely than men to report both incomplete recovery and greater disability; twice as likely to report worse fatigue; and six times more likely to become more breathless.
Participants in the study were contacted by the research team and asked to complete a structured questionnaire by post or via a telephone assessment after being discharged.
Sage said the ISARIC analysis shows that long Covid symptoms “commonly occur in related clusters,” pointing to the prevalence of different syndromes related to severe infection.
The government’s scientists said it remains unknown whether the current generation of vaccines can be used to alleviate long-term symptoms, as some reports have suggested.
“Post-Covid syndromes can occur after mild disease and the impact of vaccination on mild disease is not yet entirely clear,” Sage said during its meeting last month.
Scientists have called for formal studies into anecdotal reports that people with long Covid are making dramatic recoveries after being vaccinated.
“This is a very interesting and potentially important observation,” Charles Bangham, who holds the chair in immunology at Imperial College London, said last month.
Professor Tim Spector of King’s College London is leading the Zoe Covid Symptom Study that is tracking 600,000 people in the UK. He said he hoped to have data on how vaccines affect long Covid within a few weeks.
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