Most adults who test positive for the coronavirus do not need to be hospitalized, but usually seek medical help in the months that follow. Two-thirds of those who do this develop a state of health that they did not have before.
These are the findings of a study conducted by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente, which included approximately 3,171 members of the Kaiser Permanente Georgia Integrated Health System. More than half were black.
The message for patients is that even with mild Covid-19, “months after initial diagnosis, new or persistent symptoms may appear,” said Dr. Alfonso C. Hernandez-Romieu, Infectious Disease Specialist at the CDC and the lead author of the study. “And it’s important that people make sure they see their doctors,” he said to express their concerns.
“It is equally important,” he added, “that clinicians recognize that there can be these long-term effects and really make sure that they validate patients, treat them with empathy, and try to do their best to help them.”
Doctors need to monitor patients for Covid-19-related complications that can be very serious, such as blood clots, he said.
The study did not compare patients who tested positive for the coronavirus with patients who did not. As a result, the authors couldn’t tell whether people who recovered from mild Covid-19 cases made more doctor visits than those who never had the virus.
However, two-thirds of patients with mild illness sought medical help one to six months after their Covid-19 diagnosis, and about two-thirds of patients seeking treatment were diagnosed with an entirely new condition. The new diagnoses included cough, shortness of breath, heart rate disturbances, chest or throat pain, and fatigue, “which are likely to be persistent Covid-19 symptoms,” the study said.
Those who received more medical attention included adults ages 50 and older, women, and those with underlying health conditions. Black adults were also slightly more likely to seek care than others. Overall, however, the authors found that the number of visits decreased over time.
The potential for long-term complications, even after a mild course of the disease, underscores the need for preventive measures and vaccinations, said Dr. Hernandez-Romieu.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about post-Covid conditions,” he said. “Even if the majority of people don’t have severe Covid or end up in hospital, the potential for long-term health effects is really important.”