Most Covid Patients Discharged from ICU Make a Good Recovery, Study Finds

Mounting evidence suggests that long Covid is not the great danger it was initially claimed to be. Research by the ONS indicates that, 12 weeks after infection, the percentage of people still reporting symptoms is only 2.5 points higher than the background rate.

What’s more, several studies have found little or no difference in rates of long Covid between those who were seropositive and those who were seronegative. One French study found that believing you’d had Covid was a better predictor of long Covid symptoms than actually testing positive for Covid antibodies; the only exception being anosmia.

This suggests that many, perhaps most, cases of long Covid are psychosomatic. Thanks to all the media attention on long Covid, people may have been inclined to exaggerate their symptoms; to report things they normally wouldn’t have done.

Fortunately, the vast majority of people who catch Covid get only mild symptoms; at worst, they’re bed-ridden for a few days with a nasty cold. However, a small percentage do end up in hospital, or even the ICU. And most of these individuals experience debilitating symptoms for the rest of their lives – right? 

Apparently not, finds a new Italian study. Alberto Zangrillo and colleagues identified all the Covid patients admitted to their hospital in Milan during the first wave, who’d spent at least one day on a ventilator. Of these 116 patients, 53% survived. The authors followed up 56 of the 61 survivors one year later, and asked them to complete a questionnaire.

Note: none of the survivors died during the intervening year; 5 simply refused to answer the questionnaire. Among those who did answer, the average age was 56 and 89% were male. 

So what did the researchers find? The great majority of patients reported good quality of life. 82% had no difficulty walking; 95% had no difficulty washing or dressing; and fully 84% had no difficulties with their usual activities.

Non-trivial fractions did report some pain/discomfort and feelings of anxiety/depression. However, these patients were in the minority. Overall, 61% reported no pain or discomfort; and 64% had no feelings of anxiety or depression.

And note: some of the patients who did report these things may have experienced them before they got Covid. We can’t be sure the fractions reporting no symptoms would be 100%, or even close to 100%, in the absence of a pandemic. For example, 52% of patients in the sample had at least one pre-existing health condition.

36 out of 56 patients were given a chest CT scan, to assess the extent of lung damage. Only 4 had signs of pulmonary fibrosis (severe lung damage). Though it should be noted that other studies have reported higher rates of lung damage at one year follow-up. 

Zangrillo and colleagues’ findings should be encouraging to those who’re recovering from severe Covid. One year after admission to the ICU, only a minority of patients had symptoms serious enough to affect their day to day life.

Of course, there’s much that can and should be done to prevent people landing in the ICU, such as voluntary vaccination and precision shielding. But it’s reassuring to know that many of those who do wind up there, and are subsequently discharged, can expect to make good overall recoveries.    

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November 2022
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