Observational studies have popped up left and right about the phenomena known as “long COVID.” Long COVID or post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC), as scientists call it, is the occurrence of lingering symptoms up to six months after a prior COVID-19 infection. These can be characterized by chest pain, fatigue, palpitation, and brain fog that affect both adults and children.
Recently, several scientists and pharmaceutical companies have spearheaded efforts to explore and find treatments for long COVID. But the scientific community has been open about a big research hurdle: coming up with a clear definition of the disease. Long COVID is associated with over 200 symptoms and various possible underlying causes, which is why finding a solution to it is easier said than done.
Their jobs are about to get even harder, as a new unpublished study conducted by researchers from the University of Florence and Careggi University Hospital in Florence suggests that different COVID-19 variants may cause unique and particular symptoms of long COVID.
The Different Variants and Their Long COVID Symptoms
The data from the new study was obtained from a sample of 428 prior COVID-19 patients with a median age of 64 years. The participants filled out a questionnaire about their persistent symptoms from four to 12 weeks after they were discharged from the hospital.
An analysis of the questionnaire responses showed that the most common long COVID symptoms are shortness of breath and chronic fatigue, experienced by 37% of participants. Other symptoms experienced include:
- Sleep problems (16% of respondents)
- Visual problems (13% of respondents)
- Brain fog (13% of respondents)
The researchers went a bit further and compared the reported long COVID symptoms between patients who were infected during the reign of the original variant (March to December 2020) and the time Alpha or B.1.1.7 strain was dominant (January to April 2021).
They found stark differences in long COVID symptoms between the two variants. Patients who were infected with the original COVID-19 variant experienced loss of smell, loss of taste, and impaired hearing until six months after infection. On the other hand, those infected with the Alpha variant reported distinct symptoms, such as brain fog, muscle ache, and anxiety.
These findings led the researchers to believe that different COVID-19 variants may cause differing long COVID symptoms. But they also recognize that other factors, such as changes in human behavior, symptoms awareness, treatment plans, and vaccines may contribute to the changes in symptoms.
The study is yet to be published and presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases. But its results are indeed groundbreaking. According to lead researcher Michele Spinicci, M.D., this is the first time long COVID symptoms have been linked to the different COVID-19 variants.