Study: Severe COVID often leads to other ailments

People who have recovered from a bout of severe COVID-19 may still have reason for concern about their health. A new UF study has found that patients who had a severe case of the disease were more than twice as likely than patients who had mild or moderate COVID-19 to need hospitalization again for health problems caused by COVID-19 complications.

“People who recover from COVID-19 hospitalization are significantly more likely to be hospitalized later for something else that is likely a complication of COVID-19, ” said Dr. Arch Mainous, the study’s led investigator and a professor at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. “In other words, your risk of having other bad outcomes beyond COVID-19 is increased even after you recover.” 

More than 2 million Americans have been hospitalized for COVID-19 since Aug. 1, 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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While a growing number of studies have explored long-term health complications among people who have recovered from COVID-19, most have focused on more mild symptoms such as altered sense of smell or taste or difficulty concentrating, Mainous said. The UF study, which appears in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, is among the first to explore serious outcomes among people who have recovered from the disease.

The team’s findings reinforce the need for every eligible person to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, particularly people at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19, the researchers said. That includes older adults and those with obesity, diabetes or other chronic medical conditions.

“The primary implications are that people who are at risk for severe COVID-19 episodes are the ones most at risk for future complications and so we really need to get them vaccinated,” Mainous said. 

For the study, the UF team analyzed data from electronic health records of 10,646 patients treated at one health system. Among the group, 114 had severe COVID-19 requiring hospitalization and 211 patients had mild or moderate COVID-19. The rest tested negative for COVID-19.

The researchers continued to track all hospitalizations for these patients over six months, as well as hospitalizations for cardiovascular, respiratory or blood clotting issues—complications that can be caused by COVID-19’s effects on organ systems.

After adjusting for factors including age, race, gender, insurance status and select existing medical conditions, patients who had recovered from severe COVID-19 had more than twice the risk of being hospitalized again for an issue such as heart attack, stroke, pneumonia or pulmonary embolism than patients who had not contracted COVID-19 or who had a mild or moderate case.

“Data are, unsurprisingly, showing that people who aren’t vaccinated are more likely to get sick,” Mainous said. “Unfortunately, our data show that even if people are willing to take their chances with COVID-19 because they are not concerned about the disease, they are now more likely to have a complication like a heart attack or stroke because of this. Vaccination is critical.”

In addition to Mainous, the research team included Benjamin J. Rooks, a clinical research coordinator, and Dr. Frank A. Orlando, an assistant professor and assistant medical director, both in the department of community health and family medicine at the UF College of Medicine.

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