Some Americans who contracted cases of COVID-19 may not have been hospitalized, but could face potential long-term health risks, a new study has found.
In a study published this week in the journal Nature, researchers who looked at more than 73,000 people across the country who were positive for COVID-19 but never hospitalized found that some of those cases could potentially increase the risk of death or chronic medical conditions.
The study found that between one and six months after becoming infected, those patients had a significantly greater risk of death - up to 60 percent higher - than people who had not been infected with the virus.
“We knew people have fatigue, we knew people have weakness, we knew about the memory problems or brain fog," one of the researchers in the study said.
"But when you put it all together, the diabetes, and heart problems, and kidney problems and liver problems and stroke and brain fog and fatigue and anemia and depression and anxiety — and it's actually quite jarring."
Non-hospitalized COVID-19 survivors also had a 20 percent of needing outpatient medical care over six months compared to people who have not gotten the virus.
“People have continued respiratory disease, continued headache, this, that and the next thing,” Dr. Laurie Jacobs, chairwoman of internal medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center, who was not involved in the study, said to Yahoo.
“It’s not gone away. And we don’t yet understand the underlying cause, and it’s become chronic in some cases, disabling in other cases. In some areas, people have gotten better, but it’s very variable.”
Within one and six months of becoming infected with COVID-19, 1,762 of the 73,345 patients studied died, the report states, though details of the deaths or their specific conditions were not provided.
Long-term medical concerns include lung issues from the respiratory effects of the virus, as well as neurological, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal side effects. Other issues listed in the study were mental health problems, including anxiety and sleep disorders.
Researchers said that some of the non-hospitalized patients’ medical issues could also become chronic and impact them for the rest of their lives.
“We have hundreds of thousands of people with an unrecognized syndrome and we are trying to learn about the immune response and how the virus changes that response and how the immune response can include all the organ systems in the body,” Dr. Eleftherios Mylonakis, chief of infectious diseases at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School and Lifespan hospitals, added.
“The health system is not made to deal with something like this.”
Researchers concluded that “The majority of people will have no problems and no consequences down the road.
“They'll get maybe sick for a day or two or three or four. They'll get over the hump. They'll regain their energy, cough will go away, shortness of breath will go away, fever will go away, and they will feel fine," they said.
"But it is true, though, that a minority of people, even if they have mild disease, they are at higher risk of developing some of the consequences that we described here. So the risk is not zero – it's small, but it's not trivial.”
According to the study, moving forward, health care systems should prepare for the potential of a spike in underlying diseases and maladies due to those non hospitalized cases.
“That really represents a significant burden on the health care system that we need to be prepared for," they noted. "We shouldn't really act surprised two or three years down the road, when people are having of a lot more diabetes or a lot more people with heart disease show up.
“We shouldn't really act surprised. We should prepare for it now."
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