Some COVID-19 survivors face another foe: PTSD

About a third of very ill patients developed post-traumatic stress disorder in a small study

medical staff transporting a patient at a hospital in Rome

Medical staff at the Agostino Gemelli University Polyclinic in Rome carry a person with COVID-19 on a biocontainment stretcher on March 16, 2020. Some patients who survive severe infection struggle with lingering post-traumatic stress disorder, a small study finds.

AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

The sickest of COVID-19 patients struggle to breathe. Facing a disease new to science, they’re isolated from their loved ones and treated by doctors and nurses in hazmat suits. Now, a small study in Italy finds that nearly a third of people who were very ill with COVID-19 developed post-traumatic stress disorder after acute infection.

Psychiatrist Delfina Janiri of Agostino Gemelli University Policlinic in Rome and colleagues assessed the mental health of 381 severely ill COVID-19 patients an average of 100 days after symptoms first appeared. About 30 percent, or 115 people, were diagnosed with PTSD, the team reports February 18 in JAMA Psychiatry. Depression and anxiety also turned up in these patients, though not as frequently. PTSD was more common among women, people who had a history of psychiatric disorders, and people who experienced delirium or agitation while very sick with COVID-19.

The rate of PTSD is comparable to that of survivors of other coronavirus infections such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), as well as natural disasters, the researchers say. About 30 percent of New Orleans residents who survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and its aftermath developed PTSD.

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