Background: The aim of this study was to systematically synthesise the global evidence on the prevalence of persistent symptoms in a general post COVID-19 population.
Methods: A systematic literature search was conducted using multiple electronic databases (MEDLINE and The Cochrane Library, Scopus, CINAHL, and medRxiv) until January 2022. Studies with at least 100 people with confirmed or self-reported COVID-19 symptoms at ≥28 days following infection onset were included. Patient-reported outcome measures and clinical investigations were both assessed. Results were analysed descriptively, and meta-analyses were conducted to derive prevalence estimates. This study was pre-registered (PROSPERO-ID: CRD42021238247).
Findings: 194 studies totalling 735,006 participants were included, with five studies conducted in those <18 years of age. Most studies were conducted in Europe (n = 106) or Asia (n = 49), and the time to follow-up ranged from ≥28 days to 387 days. 122 studies reported data on hospitalised patients, 18 on non-hospitalised, and 54 on hospitalised and non-hospitalised combined (mixed). On average, at least 45% of COVID-19 survivors, regardless of hospitalisation status, went on to experience at least one unresolved symptom (mean follow-up 126 days). Fatigue was frequently reported across hospitalised (28.4%; 95% CI 24.7%-32.5%), non-hospitalised (34.8%; 95% CI 17.6%-57.2%), and mixed (25.2%; 95% CI 17.7%-34.6%) cohorts. Amongst the hospitalised cohort, abnormal CT patterns/x-rays were frequently reported (45.3%; 95% CI 35.3%-55.7%), alongside ground glass opacification (41.1%; 95% CI 25.7%-58.5%), and impaired diffusion capacity for carbon monoxide (31.7%; 95% CI 25.8%-3.2%).
Interpretation: Our work shows that 45% of COVID-19 survivors, regardless of hospitalisation status, were experiencing a range of unresolved symptoms at ∼ 4 months. Current understanding is limited by heterogeneous study design, follow-up durations, and measurement methods. Definition of subtypes of Long Covid is unclear, subsequently hampering effective treatment/management strategies.
Funding: No funding.
Keywords: COVID-19; Long Covid; Meta analyses.
© 2022 The Author(s).