Covid-19: Prolonged and relapsing course of illness has implications for returning workers

Publicado originalmente nos blogs do BMJ. Leia o original (em inglês)

Covid-19 is a new illness on a scale not seen in living memory. Every article and webcast about covid-19 has the same message: “We are still learning; we don’t know enough yet.” However, out of this sea of information, protean patterns of illness are emerging. Doctors, governments, and countries have made huge efforts to treat patients and prevent disease spread, but given the novelty of this disease, we should consider what we can learn from the information we have so far, and what more can be done to help in the supportive management and prevention of new cases.

So far, there has been much emphasis on the treatment of acute life-threatening manifestation of covid-19. However, we are seeing increasing evidence of a “long-tail” of covid-19 related illness, and we need to consider how to support patients with prolonged illness from covid-19. As a group of authors, we have become interested in this area from a personal and professional perspective. CR and AUL have both experienced a long-tail of covid-19 symptoms and MM through her experience treating people with these symptoms in general practice.

Many individuals not admitted to hospital are reporting a prolonged and debilitating course of illness. Doctors have highlighted their experience of prolonged symptoms. [1] [2] [3] Patient led-research is already underway with the publication of data on protracted symptoms, such as the data from the Body Politic Covid-19 Slack support group. [4] After sharing our recent BMJ rapid response on social media, many other people shared their experience of symptoms that have lasting up to 13 weeks or more. [5] Among 61 reported symptoms, the most noted persistent symptoms were fatigue and shortness of breath, especially with exertion, chest tightness, cough, skin rash, elevated temperatures, and neurological disturbances. [4] The Covid-19 symptom tracking app developed at King’s College London, which has been downloaded by 3.9 million people globally to date, has reported that 10% people had symptoms at 25 days and 5% were still ill one month later. [6] The patterns within prolonged symptoms may not be noticed during acute hospital admissions, nor in the community if longitudinal patient symptom tracking and testing is not carried out. More formal evaluation is necessary and would be useful for clinicians and patients. Actively engaging patients and carers in research design and evaluation is crucial to ensure that people’s experiences are being adequately captured.

Some patients have observed a periodic “tertian” or “quartan” pattern, where symptoms recur every 3rd or 4th day. [4] As patients recover from covid-19, individuals say that they experience less intense recurrences of their original symptom “clusters,” predominantly at longer intervals. It is unclear if some of these recurrences represent re-activation viraemias or are a consequence of immune response. Current guidelines for self-isolation of “7 days after start of symptoms” in the UK may not be adequate in many individuals, [7] particularly with reports of prolonged faecal viral shedding up to 1 month for some patients. [8] [9] However, longitudinal assessments of serial PCR testing currently undertaken largely through oropharyngeal swabs, (or stool samples) are not routine community practice, apart from some selected settings such as care homes.

Despite covid-19 testing being widely available, concerns remain around current limited sensitivity and specificity of Covid-19 PCR swab tests due to the timing and technique in collecting the swab samples. [10] Highly specific IgG antibody tests have been developed, however uncertainty remains about the proportion of covid-19 patients that seroconvert and produce IgG antibodies after infection. Further uncertainty exists around level and duration of immunity and carrier risk after covid-19 recovery. [11]

UK prevalence studies suggest that 5% of the national population and 17% of London’s population have developed IgG antibodies. [12] [13] For individuals with confirmed covid-19 infections, high initial antibody conversion rates have been found in small numbers of hospital patients. [14]  WHO guidance currently recommends return to work after 2 weeks of absence of symptoms. [15] However, some staff who have returned to work during a quiescent phase are unable to continue work because of the resurgence of symptoms.

Prolonged covid-19 illness follows a distinct pattern, reflecting a cluster of symptoms of longer duration and of unknown cause. The presentation of this periodic pattern of symptoms could help improve understanding of the nature of the virus-host interaction in covid-19 pathogenesis, and guide future targeted assessment, management, and treatment interventions. It is now apparent that this is a multi-system disorder with a far wider range of symptoms than currently identified on the NHS website. [16] Rather than solely relying on diagnostic tests, clinical acumen is crucial to unravel the covid-19 puzzle. Those with less severe relapsing symptoms may not present to general practice or may present at varying timepoints.

The dual hallmarks of prolonged illness with relapsing and remitting pattern of recurrence have significant implications for the individual, who needs care and advice. Consequences may include a prolonged sickness absence and multidisciplinary health needs. A successful recovery requires a gradual rehabilitation and an individualised return to work plan. As our understanding develops on the length of time that symptoms persist, there may be further health implications relevant to immunity, infectivity, and return to work. Individuals will need monitoring and follow-up, with understanding and acceptance shown by managers and colleagues. [17]

Clare Rayner is a retired occupational health physician.

Amali U Lokugamage is a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Whittington Health NHS Trust, London, UK, and honorary associate professor and deputy lead of clinical and professional practice at UCL Medical School, London.

Mariam Molokhia is a clinical reader in epidemiology and primary care at King’s College London and a GP in NW London.

Competing interests: CR is in the shielding group for covid-19 due to underlying conditions. AUL is on the Board of Directors of the International MotherBaby Childbirth organisation. She is a company director of a small publishing company called Docamali Ltd. MM none declared.

Acknowledgements: MM is supported by the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Center at Guy’s and St Thomas’ National Health Service Foundation Trust and King’s College London. We are grateful to Mark Ashworth and Patrick White for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Study Raises Concerns for Pregnant Women With the Coronavirus

Pregnant women who are infected wind up in hospitals and I.C.U.’s at higher rates, a federal analysis suggests. But the data is far from conclusive.

Do New York Times (em inglês)
A paramedic in Stamford, Conn., with a woman who is eight months pregnant and sick with the coronavirus in April. She was put on a ventilator, her son was delivered by emergency C-section and she spent three weeks in the hospital.
A paramedic in Stamford, Conn., with a woman who is eight months pregnant and sick with the coronavirus in April. She was put on a ventilator, her son was delivered by emergency C-section and she spent three weeks in the hospital.Credit…John Moore/Getty Images


Pregnant women infected with the coronavirus are more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to an intensive care unit and put on a ventilator than are infected women who are not pregnant, according to a new government analysis.

Pregnant women are known to be particularly susceptible to other respiratory infections, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has maintained from the start of the pandemic that the virus does not seem to “affect pregnant people differently than others.”

The increased risk for intensive care and mechanical ventilation worried experts. But the new study did not include one pivotal detail: whether pregnant women were hospitalized because of labor and delivery. That may have significantly inflated the numbers, so it is unclear whether the analysis reflects a true increase in risk of hospitalization.

Admissions for childbirth represent 25 percent of all hospitalizations in the United States, counting mother and baby, said Dr. Neel Shah, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard University. Even at earlier stages of pregnancy, doctors err on the side of being overly cautious when treating pregnant women — whether they have the coronavirus or not.

“There’s quite clearly a different threshold for hospitalizing pregnant people and nonpregnant people,” he said. “The question is whether it also reflects something about their illness, and that’s something we don’t really know.”

The results are to be published on Thursday by the C.D.C.; government researchers presented the data to a federal immunization committee on Wednesday. (The slides were posted online on Wednesday afternoon but taken down later in the day.)

The analysis, the largest of its type so far, is based on data from women with confirmed infections of the coronavirus as reported to the C.D.C. by 50 states and Washington, from Jan. 22 to June 7.

The report includes information on 8,207 pregnant women between ages 15 to 44, who were compared to 83,205 women in the same age bracket who were not pregnant.

More than 31 percent of the pregnant women were hospitalized, compared with about 6 percent of women who were not pregnant. Pregnant women were more likely to be admitted to the I.C.U. (1.5 percent versus 0.9 percent) and to require mechanical ventilation (0.5 percent versus 0.3 percent).

These proportions are small, Dr. Shah noted, and the 10-fold difference in the number of pregnant and nonpregnant women in the analysis makes it difficult to compare their risks.

In a separate analysis by Covid-Net of women hospitalized with the coronavirus, C.D.C. researchers noted that “the risk of I.C.U. and mechanical ventilation was lower among pregnant compared to nonpregnant women.” Covid-Net analyzes data from hospitalizations in the network’s surveillance area in 14 states.

Despite the ambiguities, some experts said the new data suggests at the very least that pregnant women with the coronavirus should be carefully monitored.

If many of the pregnant women were hospitalized for labor and delivery, the proportion of women who were hospitalized for only coronavirus infection and became severely ill — those advancing to the I.C.U. or ventilation — would be even higher, said Dr. Denise Jamieson, a member of the Covid-19 task force at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“I think the bottom line is this: These findings suggest that compared to nonpregnant women, pregnant women are more likely to have severe Covid,” she said.

Pregnancy transforms the body’s biology, ramping up metabolism, blood flow, lung capacity and heart rate. It also suppresses a woman’s immune system to accommodate the fetus — a circumstance that can increase her susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like influenza.

Because of this heightened risk, scientists have been closely monitoring pregnancy outcomes in various coronavirus studies. So far, few studies have indicated a significant risk for pregnant women or for their children. Infections in newborns have been exceedingly rare.

Still, as the pandemic has progressed, prenatal care has been severely disrupted, Dr. Shah said, and women are being hospitalized for conditions that might have been caught and treated much earlier.

“Things that might have happened in an office setting are happening in a hospital triage setting,” he said.

Dr. Jamieson pointed to a recent study of pregnant women at New York City hospitals who were asymptomatic at admission. Of the 241 women who tested positive for the coronavirus in that study, 48 did not have symptoms at first but then became severely ill.

The study also found that women with more severe symptoms were more likely to give birth prematurely.

“All this information points to the importance of being vigilant when it comes to monitoring pregnant women,” Dr. Jamieson said. “They’re not at as great a risk as, for example, older people, or people with other underlying medical conditions. But they do seem to be at some increased risk.”

The data suggests that hospitals should aim to test all pregnant women for the coronavirus, regardless of symptoms, she added. The new analysis also has implications for a coronavirus vaccine, whenever one becomes available.

“How strongly are we going to counsel pregnant women about the benefits of vaccines?” Dr. Jamieson wondered.


An earlier version of this article described Dr. Denise Jamieson as the head of the Covid-19 task force at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In fact, the task force has no head, and Dr. Jamieson is a member.

Apoorva Mandavilli is a reporter for The Times, focusing on science and global health. She is the 2019 winner of the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting. @apoorva_nyc

A version of this article appears in print on , Section A, Page 11 of the New York edition with the headline: Infected Women Who Are Pregnant May Face Higher Risk for Intensive Care.