Pulmonary long-term consequences of COVID-19 infections after hospital discharge

Clin Microbiol Infect. 2021 Jun;27(6):892-896. doi: 10.1016/j.cmi.2021.02.019. Epub 2021 Mar 2.


Objectives: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) survivors are reporting residual abnormalities after discharge from hospital. Limited information is available about this stage of recovery or the lingering effects of the virus on pulmonary function and inflammation. This study aimed to describe lung function in patients recovering from COVID-19 hospitalization and to identify biomarkers in serum and induced sputum samples from these patients.

Methods: Patients admitted to Spanish hospitals with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection by a real-time PCR (RT-PCR) assay for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) were recruited for this study. Each hospital screened their lists of discharged patients at least 45 days after symptom onset. SARS-CoV-2-infected patients were divided into mild/moderate and severe disease groups according to the severity of their symptoms during hospitalization. Patients' epidemiological and medical histories, comorbidities, chronic treatments, and laboratory parameters were evaluated. Pulmonary function tests, the standardized 6-minute walk test (6MWT) and chest computed tomography (CT) were also performed. The levels of proteases, their inhibitors, and shed receptors were measured in serum and induced sputum samples.

Results: A total of 100 patients with respiratory function tests were included in this study. The median number of days after the onset of symptoms was 104 (IQR 89.25, 126.75). COVID-19 was severe in 47% of patients (47/100). CT was normal in 48% of patients (48/100). Lung function was normal forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) ≥80%, forced vital capacity (FVC) ≥80%, FEV1/FVC ≥0.7, and diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (DLCO) ≥80% in 92% (92/100), 94% (94/100), 100% (100/100) and 48% (48/100) of patients, respectively. Multivariate analysis showed that a DLCO <80% (OR 5.92; 95%CI 2.28-15.37; p < 0.0001) and a lower serum lactate dehydrogenase level (OR 0.98; 95%CI 0.97-0.99) were associated with the severe disease group of SARS-CoV-2 cases during hospital stay.

Conclusions: A diffusion deficit (DLCO <80%) was still present after hospital discharge and was associated with the most severe SARS-CoV-2 cases.

Keywords: COVID-19; Intracellular adhesion molecule; Lung diffusion capacity; Osteoprotegerin; Plasminogen activator inhibitor; Tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinases; Tomography.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • COVID-19 / diagnosis
  • COVID-19 / physiopathology*
  • COVID-19 Nucleic Acid Testing
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Discharge
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification
  • Spain / epidemiology
  • Survivors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed


  • Biomarkers