Most symptoms in the Wuhan report were slightly more common among women, with 81 percent reporting at least one health problem, compared with 73 percent of men.
Reports about other respiratory diseases, like the 2003 outbreak of SARS, another type of coronavirus, suggest that some Covid survivors may experience aftereffects for months or years. Most SARS patients recovered physically, but researchers found that many had “worrying levels of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic symptoms” a year later.
In a commentary accompanying the Lancet study, researchers from Italy wrote that 38 percent of SARS survivors had diminished oxygen flow from their lungs 15 years later, adding that “evidence from previous coronavirus outbreaks suggests that some degree of lung damage could persist.”
While people who were hospitalized for Covid may experience more serious or longer-lasting physical issues, a growing body of evidence shows that even people who were never hospitalized can have residual symptoms. Many such patients are seeking care from the post-Covid clinics springing up in the United States.
One recent survey by a patient-led research team involved 3,762 participants, mostly women, from 56 countries — most of whom had not been hospitalized. Nearly two-thirds reported experiencing symptoms for at least six months, with most saying they had fatigue and that their symptoms became worse after physical or mental exertion, according to the report, which has not been peer-reviewed. More than half of those with symptoms said they experienced “cognitive dysfunction” involving brain fog or difficulty thinking or concentrating.
Dr. Peluso noted that since the Wuhan patients were hospitalized in the first half of 2020, most were not treated with some more recently recognized therapies like remdesivir or dexamethasone, so it’s unclear whether people receiving those treatments now would encounter the same degree of long-term complications.
Still, he and other doctors said the study’s portrait of lingering symptoms rings true. Dr. Ferrante said that at the post-Covid recovery program where she treats patients, “pretty much everybody that I’m seeing is reporting impairment in physical or cognitive function or both.”