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Three quarters of patients report long-term effects of coronavius

Press release issued: 24 August 2020

Three quarters of a group of patients who received care for coronavirus at Bristol's Southmead Hospital were still suffering ongoing symptoms three months later, a study published on the pre-print server medRxi has found.

Researchers at North Bristol NHS Trust found that 81 out of 110 discharged patients were still experiencing symptoms such as breathlessness, excessive fatigue and muscle aches when invited back to clinic.

Many were also suffering from poor quality of life compared to the rest of the population, struggling to carry out daily tasks such as washing, dressing, or going back to work.

Most of the patients did, however, report improvements in their initial symptoms of fever, cough and loss of sense of smell. Reassuringly, the majority of patients had no evidence of lung scarring or reductions in lung function.

The findings came as part of the preliminary results of the DISCOVER (DIagnostic and Severity markers of COVID-19 to Enable Rapid triage) project, the first of its kind, into the longer-term effects of coronavirus.

Dr Rebecca Smith, Deputy Director of research and innovation at North Bristol NHS Trust, said "There's still so much we don't know about the long-term effects of coronavirus, but this study has given us vital new insight into what challenges patients may face in their recovery and will help us prepare for those needs.

"We're pleased that researchers at Southmead Hospital are leading the way, and hope our findings can help patients and their GPs understand the course of post-COVID illness and the role of routine tests."

The research is due to continue at Southmead Hospital, with researchers collaborating with the University of Bristol to look at the participant blood tests, rehabilitation therapies and psychological support.

Dr David Arnold at North Bristol NHS Trust and NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow in the Bristol Medical School: (THS), who is leading DISCOVER, explained: "This research helps to describe what many coronavirus patients have been telling us: they are still breathless, tired, and not sleeping well months after admission. Reassuringly, however, abnormalities on X-rays and breathing tests are rare in this group. Further work in the DISCOVER project will help us to understand why this is, and how we can help coronavirus sufferers."

The research was funded by Southmead Hospital Charity thanks to donations from their supporters. The charity's Coronavirus Appeal is ongoing to continue to support more COVID-19 research at the Trust including the next stages of the DISCOVER project.  Additionally this ground-breaking research project has also received funding from the University's Elizabeth Blackwell Institute.

Sarah Harrison, Director of Southmead Hospital Charity, added: “We are proud to have been able to support this vital research project which has already enabled clinicians to develop their understanding of this disease and its longer-term effects.

"This research firmly puts Bristol at the heart of advancing the knowledge of coronavirus and how it shapes the medical landscape going forward.

"These latest findings from the DISCOVER team show that more work is needed to support patients and the NHS longer term and it is donations from the public and our supporters that will enable us to continue to support that important work."

Pre-print paper

'Patient outcomes after hospitalisation with COVID-19 and implications for follow-up; results from a prospective UK cohort' by David T Arnold, Fergus W Hamilton, et al on pre-print site medRxi

Please note this is a preprint, so it is a preliminary piece of research that has not yet been through peer review and has not been published in a scientific journal – so this is early data.

Further information

About the Bristol UNCOVER group
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, researchers at the University of Bristol formed the Bristol COVID Emergency Research (UNCOVER) Group to pool resources, capacities, and research efforts to combat this infection.

Bristol UNCOVER includes clinicians, immunologists, virologists, synthetic biologists, aerosol scientists, epidemiologists and mathematical modellers and has links to behavioural and social scientists, ethicists and lawyers and is supported by a large number of junior academic and administrative colleagues.

Follow Bristol UNCOVER on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/BristolUncover

Elizabeth Blackwell Institute (EBI) supports Bristol UNCOVER, which is led by Professor Adam Finn, and includes a number of researchers who have received grants from the EBI COVID-19 funding call.

For more information about the University of Bristol’s coronavirus (COVID-19) research priorities visit: www.bristol.ac.uk/research/impact/coronavirus/research-priorities/

About Southmead Hospital Charity
Southmead Hospital Charity funds ground-breaking medical research; provides specialist equipment at the cutting-edge of technology and improves treatment facilities for generations to come.  It raises money to support the work of North Bristol NHS Trust at Southmead Hospital, Cossham Hospital and community health services in the Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset areas. 

About Elizabeth Blackwell Institute
Nurturing research. Improving health.

The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute drives innovation in research to improve health for all. It nurtures interdisciplinary research to address the complex health challenges facing us today.

The institute focuses on:

  • Supporting the next generation of health researchers
  • Connecting people to develop interdisciplinary research
  • Including everyone in research so the research can benefit all.

As well as supporting research with funding the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute is also helping to connect research up across the University as a whole, so that people working on COVID-19 have the chance to work together, sharing resources and expertise. This aligns with the work that the Institute already supports to galvanise research across disciplines and groups, through research networks and thematic strands, ranging from Infection and Immunity to Medical Humanities.

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