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Background: To determine the extent and nature of changes associated with COVID-19 infection in terms of healthcare utilisation, this study observed healthcare contact 1 to 4 and 5 to 24 weeks following a COVID-19 diagnosis compared to propensity-matched controls. Methods: Two hundred forty nine thousand three hundred ninety Welsh individuals with a positive reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test were identified from data from national PCR test results. After elimination criteria, 98,600 positive individuals were matched to test negative and never tested controls using propensity matching. Cohorts were split on test location. Tests could be taken in either the hospital or community. Controls were those who had tested negative in their respective environments. Survival analysis was utilised for first clinical outcomes which are grouped into primary and secondary. Primary outcomes include post-viral-illness and fatigue as an indication of long-COVID. Secondary outcomes include clinical terminology concepts for embolism, respiratory conditions, mental health conditions, fit notes, or hospital attendance. Increased instantaneous risk for positive individuals was quantified using hazard ratios (HR) from Cox regression, while absolute risk (AR) and relative risk were quantified using life table analysis. Results: Analysis was conducted using all individuals and stratified by test location. Cases are compared to controls from the same test location. Fatigue (HR: 1.77, 95% CI: 1.34–2.25, p = < 0.001) and embolism (HR: 1.50, 95% CI: 1.15–1.97, p = 0.003) were more likely to occur in all positive individuals in the first 4 weeks; however, anxiety and depression (HR: 0.83, 95% CI: 0.73–0.95, p = 0.007) were less likely. Positive individuals continued to be more at risk of fatigue (HR: 1.47, 95% CI: 1.24–1.75, p = < 0.001) and embolism (HR: 1.51, 95% CI: 1.13–2.02, p = 0.005) after 4 weeks. All positive individuals are also at greater risk of post-viral illness (HR: 4.57, 95% CI: 1.77–11.80, p = 0.002). Despite statistical association between testing positive and several conditions, life table analysis shows that only a small minority of the study population were affected. Conclusions: Community COVID-19 disease is associated with increased risks of post-viral-illness, fatigue, embolism, and respiratory conditions. Despite elevated risks, the absolute healthcare burden is low. Subsequently, either very small proportions of people experience adverse outcomes following COVID-19 or they are not presenting to healthcare.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Medicine

Publication Date