1 in 10 people still have moderate to severe symptoms after mild COVID-19

Eight months after mild COVID-19, every tenth person still has at least one moderate to severe symptom that is thought to have a negative impact on their work, social or home life. The most common long-term symptoms are loss of smell and taste and fatigue.

This is according to a study published in the journal JAMA, conducted by researchers at Danderyd Hospital and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

Since the spring of 2020, researchers at Danderyd Hospital and the Karolinska Institutet have been conducting a so-called COMMUNITY study, with the main purpose of examining immunity after COVID-19. In the first phase of the study in the spring of 2020, blood samples were collected from 2,149 employees at Danderyd Hospital, of whom about 19 percent had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

Since then, blood samples have been collected every four months, and study participants responded to questionnaires regarding long-term symptoms and their impact on quality of life.

In a third follow-up in January 2021, the research team examined the presence of long-term symptoms and their impact on work, social and home life reported alone for participants who had mild COVID-19 at least eight months earlier.

This group consisted of 323 health workers (83 percent women, mean age 43 years) and was compared with 1,072 health workers (86 percent women, mean age 47 years) who did not have COVID-19 during the entire study period.

The results show that 26 percent of those who had previously had COVID-19, compared with 9 percent in the control group, had at least one moderate to severe symptom that lasted more than two months, and that 11 percent compared with 2 percent in the control group , had at least one symptom with a negative impact on work, social or domestic life that lasted for at least eight months. The most common long-term symptoms were loss of smell and taste, fatigue, and respiratory problems.

We investigated the presence of long-term symptoms after mild COVID-19 in a relatively young and healthy group of workers and found that the dominant long-term symptoms were loss of smell and taste. Fatigue and respiratory problems were also more common among participants who had COVID-19, but did not occur to the same extent. “

Charlotte Thålin, Ph.D., Specialist Pphysicist and lead researcher, COMMUNITY STUDY, Danderyd Hospital and Karolinska Institutet

“However, we do not see an increased prevalence of cognitive symptoms such as brain fatigue, memory and concentration problems, or physical disorders such as muscle and joint pain, palpitations, or prolonged fever.”

“Despite the fact that study participants had a mild COVID-19 infection, a relatively large proportion report long-term symptoms that affect quality of life. In light of this, we believe that young and healthy individuals, as well as other groups in society, should have great respect according to a virus that appears to be able to significantly impair quality of life, even long after infection, ”says Sebastian Havervall, deputy chief physician at Danderyd Hospital and a doctoral student in the project at the Karolinska Institutet.

The COMMUNITY study will now continue, and the next follow-up will take place in May, when a large proportion of study participants are expected to be vaccinated. In addition to monitoring immunity and the occurrence of re-infection, several projects related to post-COVID are planned.

“Among other things, we will take a closer look at the odor and taste loss associated with COVID-19 and investigate whether the immune system, including autoimmunity, plays a role in post-COVID,” says Charlotte Thålin.


Journal reference:

Havervall, S., and others. (2021) Symptoms and functional impairment assessed 8 months after moderate COVID-19 among healthcare professionals. JAMA. doi.org/10.1001/jama.2021.5612.