Half of patients hospitalised with Covid still have at least one symptom two years later, according to new research. 

The study, which is the longest follow-up study to date, looked at data from 1,192 Covid patients who were treated at a hospital in Wuhan, China between January and May 2020. 

The patients were followed up at six, 12 and 24 month periods following discharge, and were assessed with a six-minute walking test, a laboratory test and questionnaires on symptoms, mental health, health-related quality of life, if they had returned to work, and healthcare use after discharge.

Covid has a long-term impact on physical and mental health of some patients

The results of the study show that while the participants' physical and mental health generally improved over time, they tended to have poorer health and quality of life than the general population.

Indeed, nearly a third (31%) of participants reported fatigue or muscle weakness and the same number reported sleep difficulties. This compared to 5% and 14% of non-Covid participants respectively.

In quality of life questionnaires, Covid-19 patients also reported pain or discomfort (23%) and anxiety or depression (12%) more often than non-Covid participants (5% and 5% respectively).

Around half (55%) of patients had at least one long Covid symptom at two years following infection, with fatigue and muscle weakness most commonly reported.

Long Covid also appeared to have an impact on mental health, with nearly one in four (19%) reporting anxiety or depression compared to just 4% of non-Covid patients.

A "clear need" to provide continued to support to patients who were hospitalised with Covid

The authors of the study acknowledge some limitations to the study including that there was a slightly increased proportion of participants included in the analysis who received oxygen. This may have resulted in an overestimate of the prevalence of long Covid symptoms.

They also add that since this study uses data from earlier in the pandemic it may not relate to those infected with later variants.

Nevertheless, lead author Professor Bin Cao, of the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, China said the findings indicate that for some hospitalised Covid-19 patients, it may take more than two years to fully recover.

"Ongoing follow-up of Covid-19 survivors, particularly those with symptoms of long Covid, is essential to understand the longer course of the illness, as is further exploration of the benefits of rehabilitation programmes for recovery," he said.

Professor Cao added that the results highlight the "clear need" to provide continued to support to patients who had severe Covid, and to understand how vaccines, emerging treatments, and variants affect long-term health outcomes.