Over the past year, researchers at the University of Florida (UF) have published a series of studies that provide a clear and devastating prognosis for people hospitalized with severe COVID-19.
In July, they reported that people who had apparently recovered from severe COVID-19 were likely to end up in hospital again with lingering complications from the disease.
In December, they found that those who have recovered from severe COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to die the following year as people who have not contracted the virus.
The sharp end of the “long COVID”
These complications and deaths are further proof of the mysterious condition now known as “long COVID”.
As we reported last week, despite widespread skepticism, the “long COVID” is a reality.
The latest findings from UF provide insight into who among these patients is most likely to die. And what can we do about it.
First, they found that the severity of a patient’s inflammation while in hospital could predict their risk of serious and persistent health problems, including death.
They concluded that severe inflammation during hospitalization increased “by 61% the risk of death within one year of apparent recovery”.
How to reduce this risk
Researchers have found that this risk of death over the next year can be halved if patients are prescribed anti-inflammatory steroids upon discharge from hospital.
These common steroids “reduced the increased risk of death from severe inflammation by 51 percent.”
The authors argue that “prescribing steroids upon discharge from hospital for COVID-19 should become the norm.”
These findings are not a big surprise.
In September 2020, the World Health Organization changed its advice on hospital treatment and, as Conversation reported article, strongly recommends that corticosteroids be adopted as a first-line intervention for the sickest patients.
It is important to note that people with mild cases of the disease should do not take steroids, as they will likely interfere with your recovery and compromise it.
COVID-19 as a chronic disease
The first author of these studies is Professor Arch G Mainous III, vice chair of research in the Department of Community Health and Family Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
He said there was a case for COVID-19 to be investigated as a potentially chronic disease.
“When someone has a cold or even pneumonia, we usually think the illness is over once the patient recovers. This is different from a chronic illness, like congestive heart failure or diabetes, which continues to affect patients after an acute episode,” said Dr. Mainous.
“We may also need to start thinking that COVID-19 has ongoing effects in many parts of the body after patients have recovered from the initial episode.”
He said that once the importance of a “long COVID” after apparent “recovery” is properly recognised, “we need to focus on treatments to prevent later problems, such as strokes, brain dysfunction and especially premature death”.
In these studies, Dr. Mainous and his colleagues investigated the electronic health records of 1,207 adults hospitalized in 2020 or 2021 after testing positive for COVID-19 within the University of Florida health system, and who had been followed for at least a year after their release.