Long-COVID symptoms may be no more severe than those seen in influenza, according to new research out of Queensland Health today.
During concurrent waves of Omicron and influenza in mid-2022, 2,195 adults diagnosed with COVID-19 and 951 adults diagnosed with influenza were studied for 12 weeks and asked about ongoing symptoms and functional impairment using a questionnaire.
Of those diagnosed with Omicron, 21% (469) reported ongoing symptoms at 12 weeks and 4% (90) reported having moderate to severe functional limitations in everyday life.
Comparatively, 23% (214) of adults diagnosed with influenza reported ongoing symptoms and 4% (42) reported moderate to severe functional limitations.
“We know our high vaccination rates protected Queenslanders from the worst of COVID-19. It appears they also helped suppress the severity of long-COVID symptoms,” said Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk.
“It backs up what we have seen from similar studies overseas that found unvaccinated people infected with COVID-19 were at greater risk of long-term symptoms.
“It is why I am proud to lead a Government that did all it could to protect the community against COVID-19 when the pandemic was at its peak, including vaccinating 80% of the population before reopening our borders.
“There was fierce opposition to this but Queensland stood firm.”
Long COVID symptoms are classed as those that persist for more than three months and can include breathlessness, a cough, heart palpitations, headaches, and severe fatigue.
The study is the first of its kind in Queensland to consider the state’s individual experience with a milder COVID-19 variant infecting a highly vaccinated population.
More than 90% of the population of Queensland had been vaccinated against COVID-19 before the community first experienced widespread transmission of the Omicron variant in 2022.
“The study also found the impact of long COVID on the health system is likely to stem from the number of people infected with COVID-19 rather than the severity of long COVID symptoms,” said Queensland Chief Health Officer, Dr John Gerrard.
“Vaccination is effective against severe disease and the vast majority of vaccinated Queenslanders recover quickly from COVID-19 or influenza infection.
“While getting vaccinated remains the best protection against COVID-19, the problem of waning immunity in older Queenslanders remains a concern.
“People over the age of 65 should seek another dose of COVID-19 vaccine if it has been more than six months since previous vaccination or natural infection.
“This research provides information to better understand the impact of long COVID and other viruses like influenza on our health system,” he said.
The results will be presented at the prestigious European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.