More than a year into the pandemic, researchers are still learning more about how COVID-19 attacks the body, and a new study indicates that it's not just those with severe cases who deal with long-term symptoms of the virus — many people with mild or asymptomatic cases can also become "long-haulers."
In one of the first large studies focused on mild COVID-19 cases in people who did not require hospitalization, researchers looked at the medical records of 1,407 people in California who had tested positive for COVID-19 and experienced mild symptoms or were asymptomatic when they were initially infected. Of that group, 382 people, or 27%, were struggling with COVID-19 symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, coughing and joint pain more than 60 days after testing positive.
And a third of those with long-term symptoms said that they did not have any symptoms when they were first diagnosed with COVID-19, or in the 10 days after their positive test.
Women "were more likely to become long-haulers," the researchers said, and these long-term symptoms were found in people of any age group, with most around age 50. There were also 34 children in the study, and 11 had long-term symptoms.
The study, from researchers at the University of California, Irvine, is currently on MedRxiv, a pre-print site for medical studies that are undergoing peer review.
Currently, not much is known about why some people suffer from long-term COVID-19 symptoms while others do not. In February, the National Institutes of Health announced that they would begin a new initiative to study "long COVID" and better understand the reasons for the ongoing symptoms.
The researchers from UC Irvine also noted the lack of research on "long-haulers" in their study.
"Long-haulers represent a very significant public health concern, and there are no guidelines to address their diagnosis and management," they wrote. "Additional studies are urgently needed that focus on the physical, mental, and emotional impact of long-term COVID-19 survivors who become long-haulers."
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