Study: 1 in 4 COVID-19 patients considered ‘long haulers’

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new study led by the University of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services found more than 25% of Michiganders diagnosed with COVID-19 are considered “long haulers,” meaning they are still dealing with health effects from the virus.

For the study, researchers surveyed 638 Michiganders who were diagnosed with COVID-19 before April 15. Everyone was contacted at least 10 weeks after their diagnosis for follow-up questions. Of the 638, 26.2% say they are still dealing with virus symptoms and don’t consider themselves fully recovered.

“A lot of what’s been circulating in the media about COVID is that it affects a small group of people very severely, but the majority of people recover,” said Jana Hirschtick, one of two lead researchers on the project from the University of Michigan. “And I think two key things that we are learning from our study is that among people who have been diagnosed, actually, the majority of them are reporting severe or very severe symptoms and that a lot of people aren’t recovering even months later, so prevention is really key.”

Of the 638 patients surveyed, 25.8% of them say they suffered “very severe” symptoms at the height of their illness, while 39% only called them severe. A combined 35.2% said their symptoms were either moderate or mild.

Still, the survey shows the virus isn’t only a long-term problem for long haulers. Of the 420 respondents who do consider themselves recovered, 16.9% of them say it took at least seven weeks or longer for them to beat the virus entirely. Approximately two out of five recovered respondents felt better after two weeks of their diagnosis, and about three out of five felt fully recovered within three weeks.

Of those surveyed, 29% say they ended up being hospitalized by COVID-19. Of those that were hospitalized, 64% were in and out in less than a week. Only 10.4% were there for longer than three weeks.

The Michigan researchers believe their survey stands out because they aren’t simply looking at the impact COVID-19 is having on the people dealing with the extreme outcomes of the virus.

“Most other studies to date have focused on a subset of COVID cases, either studying those who were hospitalized or those who maybe visited an outpatient clinic,” Hirschtick said. “Which makes it really hard to make general inferences to the general population because so many people with COVID are not being hospitalized. Our study is unique because we are looking at all confirmed positive cases. So, we are still missing people who were not tested, but we are catching everyone with a positive test in the state of Michigan.”

Researchers are already working on a second version of the study, following up with more Michiganders diagnosed with COVID-19 through the spring. They hope to learn more about the demographics and figure out the similarities between COVID-19 long haulers.

The full report can be found online.

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