Initial severity of COVID-19 is not associated with later poor health or respiratory complications

Jan. 15, 2021

A new study published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society examines the recovery of lung function and overall wellness in individuals who had varying degrees of COVID-19 severity, according to a press release from the American Thoracic Society.

Little is known about lung health following infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and whether later respiratory problems, fatigue and ill health are associated with the disease’s initial severity.

In the study, researchers looked at measures of recovery for 153 patients who were followed in an outpatient clinic a median of 75 days after their COVID-19 diagnoses.

Researchers graded the patients’ initial infection severity as: (1) not requiring admission; (2) requiring hospital admission, or (3) requiring ICU care. Nearly half (74) of these patients required hospital admission during acute infection.

The researchers examined the association between the patients’ initial illness and abnormal chest x-ray, six-minute walk test distance – in which patients walked at their normal pace for six minutes – and perception of maximal exertion during their follow-up appointments. Patients were also asked about whether they felt fatigued and whether they thought they had returned to full health. Their responses were graded using validated scales.

The study team also looked at participants’ chest X-rays to detect persistent infection or significant scarring (fibrosis) and performed CT imaging for patients with abnormal chest X-rays. Bloodwork was done to measure such indicators of disease as C-reactive protein, which increases when there is inflammation in the body. Statistical analyses were performed.

The authors’ findings suggest that COVID-19 does not cause significant fibrosis, with lung scarring seen on CT scans of only 4 percent of study participants, following x-ray detection of earlier abnormalities in a larger group.

Sixty-two percent of patients felt they had not returned to full health, while 47 percent were classified as having fatigue. Patients who felt they had to exert themselves during moderate exercise also reported they felt fatigued and in poor health. Patients’ length of inpatient hospital stay and frailty were associated with covering less distance in the walk test.

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