Terror of long Covid remains common even as pandemic eases, data shows
According to data from the 2022 federal National Health Interview Survey, 9 per cent of US adults age 35 to 49 reported having long Covid-19 at some point, with 4.7 per cent saying they currently had long Covid at the time they were surveyed, Saydah said. That age range was the most affected by long Covid.
Among those age 50 to 64, 7.4 per cent reported ever having long Covid, while 3.8 per cent said they currently had the syndrome. For those age 65 and older, 4.2 per cent said they had long Covid at some point, while 2.3 per cent said they currently had it.
Among the youngest adults, up to age 34, 6.8 per cent described ever having long Covid, while 2.7 per cent said they currently had it.
“Post-Covid conditions are common following Sars-CoV-2 infection,” said Megan Wallace, another CDC epidemiologist.
The prevalence of long Covid decreased from June 2022 to January 2023 but remained steady through the first half of this year, according to survey data.
“However, approximately one in four adults who currently report having long Covid report that it includes significant activity limitations. And this proportion has not changed in the past year,” Saydah said.
Those findings were detailed in a study published by the CDC in August and, researchers wrote, “highlight the importance of Covid prevention, including staying up to date with recommended Covid-19 vaccination, and could inform healthcare service needs planning, disability policy, and other support services for persons experiencing severe activity limitation from long Covid.”
One of the more curious aspects of long Covid is the sheer range of symptoms linked to the syndrome. Among them are postexertional malaise (in which a person feels worse after even minor physical or mental exertion); moderate or severe fatigue; dizziness; brain fog; gastrointestinal symptoms; heart palpitations; changes in desire for or capacity for sex; loss of smell or taste; excessive thirst; chronic cough; chest pain; and abnormal movements.
The root cause of long Covid has not been definitively established, though researchers are examining several possible explanations.
“We have not figured out who gets long Covid and who doesn’t. And we have not figured out necessarily who, for sure, isn’t going to experience some severe illness,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
That is why it is so important that people continue to get updated Covid-19 vaccinations, doctors say.
“We now have even more data showing that vaccines can also lessen the risk of getting post-Covid conditions, including long Covid,” said Dr Nava Yeganeh, medical director of L.A. County’s Vaccine Preventable Disease Control Program.
Researchers have uncovered specific long-term conditions that are associated with coronavirus infections among children and adults, Saydah added.
Among children and adolescents, coronavirus infection was associated with an increased risk of heart conditions, kidney failure, blood clots, diabetes, fatigue, smell and taste disorders and neurological conditions.
Among adults who had Covid-19, one in five reported a health condition that might have been related to their Covid-19 illness, including neurological or mental health conditions; kidney failure; blood clots; and musculoskeletal, cardiovascular or respiratory conditions.
“The symptoms and conditions of long Covid can persist for months or years after acute infection, and they also emerge or re-emerge over time,” Saydah said.
In a prospective study of adults who had acute Covid-19-like illness – whether or not they tested positive for a coronavirus infection – “we found that ongoing symptoms decreased after three months, but approximately 16 per cent continued to experience ongoing symptoms at 12 months,” Saydah said.
Among military veterans, researchers found that long Covid conditions decreased 90 days after the acute coronavirus infection, but that there was an increased risk of new conditions continuing for up to two years after the acute Covid-19 illness, Saydah added.