Healthy young people with mild COVID infection may sometimes experience temporary post-infection effects such as fatigue, loss of smell and taste, or reduced fertility. These symptoms usually improve over time. However, a new UZH study among members of the Swiss armed forces shows that young people who have had COVID are more likely to have elevated cholesterol levels, a high body mass index and reduced levels of physical endurance. As a result, they may be more likely to develop metabolic disorders and cardiovascular complications in the long term.
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, the issue of post-infection consequences is becoming increasingly important. Is long-term COVID affecting previously healthy young adults? Although this group is of great societal importance as the next generation and backbone of the workforce, the intermediate and long-term consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection have been little studied in this population. Available original studies tend to focus on patients who have been hospitalized, the elderly, or people with multiple diseases, or are limited to evaluating a single organ system.
A new study led by Patricia Schlagenhauf, Professor at the Institute of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Prevention at the University of Zurich (UZH) and supported by the Swiss Armed Forces, has made it possible to assess the possible long-term effects of COVID in young Swiss military personnel.
The study, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, was conducted from May to November 2021 on 29 women and 464 men with a mean age of 21 years. 177 participants had confirmed COVID-19 more than 180 days before the day of testing, and the control group consisted of 251 people who were serologically negative for SARS-CoV-2. Unlike other studies, the new battery of tests also assessed the state of the cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological, ophthalmic, male fertility, psychological and general systems.
The results of the study show that young, previously healthy, non-hospitalized people recover to a large extent from mild infection and that exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus on multiple body systems is less than in elderly, multi-morbid or hospitalized patients.
However, the study also provided evidence that recent infections – even mild ones – can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, decreased sense of smell and psychological problems within 180 days, as well as have a short-term negative impact on male fertility. In the case of infections that occurred more recently – more than 180 days ago – these effects were no longer significant.
However, for those with no recent infections, the long-term follow-up study found a potentially damaging constellation of factors:
“Elevated body mass index, high cholesterol levels and low physical endurance indicate an increased risk of metabolic disorders and possible cardiovascular complications,” said lead researcher Patricia Schlagenhauf. “These results have implications for society and public health and can be used to develop strategies for a broad multidisciplinary assessment of COVID-19 impacts, treatments, treatments and support in the young adult population”
The study, carried out in collaboration with the clinics of the University Hospital Zurich and the Spiez laboratory, is novel in that it quantified the function of several organs using a sensitive, minimally invasive battery of tests in a homogeneous group of people several months after being infected with COVID-19.