New Study Suggests Different Variants, Different Long COVID Symptoms


Infectious Disease Special Edition

By Landon Gray

Italian researchers observed patients with long COVID infected with the alpha variant experienced different neurologic and emotional symptoms than those who contracted the original form of SARS-CoV-2.

In a study led by Michele Spinicci, MD, of the University of Florence and Careggi University Hospital, in Italy, researchers retrospectively observed 428 total patients (59% men and 41% women) hospitalized with COVID-19 and discharged four to 12 weeks before attending Careggi University Hospital’s post–COVID-19 outpatient service between June 2020 and June 2021—when the original form of SARS-CoV-2 and the alpha variant were circulating in the population. The data will be presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases later in April.

According to patient questionnaires and other data, 76% of patients reported at least one lingering symptom. The most commonly reported persistent symptoms were shortness of breath (37%), chronic fatigue (36%), sleep disruption (16%), visual impairments (13%) and brain fog (13%). Based on study data, women were nearly twice as likely to report long-term symptoms compared with men. Also, the research team found patients with type 2 diabetes appeared to have a lower risk for experiencing symptoms of long COVID. They acknowledge further studies are needed to better understand this finding.

Investigators then studied and compared the symptoms reported by patients infected between March and December 2020, when the original SARS-CoV-2 was dominant with symptoms reported between January and April 2021, when the alpha variant was dominant. The number of reported instances of myalgia, insomnia, brain fog and anxiety/depression significantly increased after infection of the alpha variant than the original strain.

The CDC defines symptoms of  long COVID as wide-ranging new, returning or ongoing health problems that people may experience at least four weeks after first being infected with SARS-CoV-2. The CDC also said people with asymptomatic or mild disease could experience long COVID.

Investigators recognize that due to the observational nature of the study and without being able to confirm which variant caused the initial infection, conclusions on their results may be limited.

“The long duration and broad range of symptoms reminds us that the problem is not going away, and we need to do more to support and protect these patients in the long term. Future research should focus on the potential impacts of variants of concern and vaccination status on ongoing symptoms,” Dr. Spinicci said.