CDC study on COVID-19 long-haulers: Two-thirds of non-hospitalized patients received new diagnoses

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study released Friday found that two-thirds of non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients received some kind of new diagnosis up to six months after contracting the virus, supporting concerns about later health problems.

The research, done in partnership with Kaiser Permanente Georgia, found that 69 percent of patients had one or more outpatient medical visits between 28 and 180 days after their initial COVID-19 diagnosis. 

The study examined electronic record data of health care visits from 3,171 patients if they were not hospitalized in the first 28 days after their coronavirus diagnosis. A total of 2,177 patients had at least one medical visit between 28 and 180 days after the COVID-19 diagnosis, amounting to almost 8,000 visits total.

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Among patients with medical visits, 68 percent received a new diagnosis and 38 percent visited a new specialist who did not treat the patient in the year before the COVID-19 diagnosis. 

Patients who were older than 65, women, non-Hispanic Black patients and those with underlying health conditions were more likely to have an outpatient medical visit. The scientists suggested this could be partly because some groups are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and are at higher risk for post-COVID-19 conditions. 

The new diagnoses included cough, shortness of breath, chest or throat pain, or fatigue, which the researchers noted “likely represent ongoing COVID-19 symptoms.” 

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COVID-19 was documented as an active diagnosis in 10 percent of patients who had at least one medical visit within the 180 days. Visits for COVID-19 symptoms decreased after 60 days, but some people still reported issues beyond 120 days.

The researchers noted that they did not compare the number of visits among non-hospitalized adults after COVID-19 to adults not diagnosed with COVID-19. They also said three-quarters of the participants were covered by commercial insurance, mostly leaving out uninsured or publicly insured people.

The study comes as the medical community has warned that patients with COVID-19 have reported ongoing health issues in the weeks and months after getting infected. 

“The presence of active COVID-19, symptoms of COVID-19 diagnoses, and specialty referrals suggest that some non-hospitalized adults, including those with asymptomatic or mild acute illness, likely have continued health care needs months after diagnosis,” the study said.

“Raising awareness among patients, clinicians, and health systems about common new diagnoses and health needs, including specialist evaluation, after acute SARS-CoV-2 infection is important to understand the long-term effects of the illness,” it added. 

A similar study published in the journal Nature this week concluded that COVID-19 survivors who were not hospitalized were 60 percent more likely to die than uninfected individuals.