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The University of Southampton

Long-COVID patients treated in hospital show limited recovery after one year

Published: 16 December 2021

People treated in hospital with COVID-19 who remained unwell at five months show limited further recovery after one year, according to the latest results of a national study.

Patients were less likely to fully recover if they were female, obese and required invasive mechanical ventilation (IMV) to support their breathing during their hospital stay.

The PHOSP-COVID study assessed 2,230 adults who had been hospitalised with COVID-19 across UK sites including Southampton. Over a third have now completed five-month and 12-month assessments.

Researchers found that one year after leaving hospital, less than three in 10 patients reported they felt fully recovered. This was largely unchanged from 2.5 in 10 at five months.

The most common ongoing symptoms were fatigue, muscle pain, physically slowing down, poor sleep and breathlessness.

The study, led by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, involved researchers from 53 institutions and 83 hospitals across the UK. Recovery was measured using patient-reported data, physical performance and organ function tests.

The study is now available as a pre-print, which means it is yet to be checked by other scientists.

Dr Mark Jones, Associate Professor in Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton and Local Principal Investigator, said: “The PHOSP-COVID study has identified persistent long term health effects in many patients who required treatment in hospital for COVID-19. It is now beginning to investigate the reasons underlying these persistent effects. Such understanding is essential if we are to develop better ways to help this patient group.”

To date, the research team in Southampton has recruited almost 140 patients. This has been made possible by huge efforts in the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility.

Over half a million people in the UK have been admitted to hospital as a result of COVID-19. Researchers warn that a sizeable population are at risk of persistent ill-health and reduced quality of life.

Dr Rachael Evans, an Associate Professor at the University of Leicester and a lead author of the paper, said: “We urgently need healthcare packages and medicines that target the potentially treatable traits of Long-COVID to help people feel better and get back to their normal lives. Without these, Long-COVID has the potential to become highly prevalent as a new long-term condition.”

Professor Louise Wain, GSK-BLF Chair in Respiratory Research at the University of Leicester and a lead author of the paper, said: “The good news is that we have identified some differences in the blood samples of those who are still experiencing the long-term physical and cognitive effects of their COVID-19 hospital admission. These differences give us clues about the potential underlying mechanisms and suggest that we may be able to use existing medicines that target these mechanisms to help these subgroups of patients.”

The PHOSP-COVID study was jointly funded by the NIHR and MRC-UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

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