Long Covid: long-term coronavirus symptoms may depend variant you contracted, study finds

New research susggests people who suffered severe illness were six times as likely to report long Covid symptoms

Long-term symptoms of coronavirus may be influenced by the variant a person was infected with, a new study suggests.

It typically takes a few days or weeks to feel better from Covid, with most people making a full recovery within 12 weeks, but for some, symptoms can last for weeks or months after the infection has gone.

Long Covid symptoms may be influenced by the variant you contracted (Composite: Mark Hall / JPIMedia)

What did the study find?

The study, which will be presented at the European Congress of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Lisbon (ECCMID 2022) in April, suggests that those who were infected with the Alpha variant experienced different neurological and emotional symptoms than those who contracted the original strain of coronavirus.

Researchers from the University of Florence and Careggi University Hospital in Italy assessed 428 patients who were treated at the Careggi University Hospital’s post-Covid outpatient service between June 2020 and June 2021.

This period was when the original strain of the virus and the Alpha variant were both circulating, according to the early release from the ECCMID.

It was found that 76% of patients reported at least one persistent symptom after infection, with the most common symptoms of long Covid including:

  • shortness of breath (37%)
  • chronic fatigue (36%
  • sleep problems (16%)
  • brain fog (13%)
  • visual problems (13%)

Patients who suffered with severe illness and required immunosuppressant drugs, such as tocilizumab, were six times as likely to report long Covid symptoms, analysis found.

Meanwhile, those who were treated with high flow oxygen support were 40% more likely to experience long-term effects.

It was found that women were almost twice as likely as men to report symptoms of long Covid. Researchers also noted that patients with type 2 diabetes appeared to have a lower risk of developing long-term symptoms and said further studies are needed to better understand this finding.

How do symptoms differ between variants?

Following further assessment of long Covid symptoms, researchers identified a substantial change in the pattern of neurological and cognitive problems recorded by patients between March and December 2020, when the original coronavirus strain was dominated.

During this period, the study found that fatigue and issues involving smell, taste and hearing were all common during the first year of the pandemic.

This differed to the long Covid symptoms reported by patients infected between January and April 2021.

Over this period, when the Alpha variant was dominant, muscle pain, difficulty breathing, insomnia, cognitive issues (brain fog), and anxiety and depression were much more widely reported, while loss of smell, distorted sense of taste and imparied hearing were less common.

In the release, Dr Spinicci said: “Many of the symptoms reported in this study have been measured, but this is the first time they have been linked to different Covid-19 variants.

“The long duration and broad range of symptoms reminds us that the problem is not going away, and we need to do more to support and protect these patients in the long term.

“Future research should focus on the potential impacts of variants of concern and vaccination status on ongoing symptoms.”

The authors also stated that the authors acknowledged “the study was observational and does not prove cause and effect”.

The release added: “They could not confirm which variant of the virus caused the infection in different patients - which may limit the conclusions that can be drawn.”

Dr Aaron Glatt, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau in New York, who was not part of the study, told Fox News that it would be surprising if there were not such differences.

He said: “It is eminently clear that the different variants have different capabilities. Clearly, some of them are more contagious, and some of them are able to cause more severe illness.

“Likewise, some variants have a greater predilection for different age groups. Therefore, it is no surprise that there may be differences in ‘long Covid; between the variants as well.”