Long-term COVID results from mild cases of COVID-19 in most people, according to a new multinational studyThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
This article is part of the TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion analysis and news. It was originally published on The conversation.
Even mild cases of COVID-19 can have major and long-lasting effects on people’s health. This is one of the main findings of ours recent multinational study on long-term COVID-19 — or long-term COVID — recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
A long COVID is defined as the continuation or development of symptoms three months after the initial infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These symptoms persist for at least two months after onset without any other explanation.
We found that an astonishing 90% of people living with prolonged COVID initially had only mild illness with COVID-19. After developing prolonged COVID, however, the typical person experiences symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive problems such as brain fog — or a combination of these — that affect daily functioning. These symptoms have as severe a health impact as long-term effects of traumatic brain injury. Our study also found that women are at twice the risk of men and four times the risk of children to develop prolonged COVID.
We analyzed data from 54 studies reporting on more than 1 million people from 22 countries who had symptoms of COVID-19. We counted how many people with COVID-19 developed clusters of new long-term symptoms of COVID-19 and determined how their risk of developing the disease varied by their age, sex, and whether they had been hospitalized for COVID-19.
We found that patients who were hospitalized for COVID-19 had a greater risk of developing long-lasting COVID—and of having longer-lasting symptoms—compared to people who were not hospitalized. However, because the majority of cases of COVID-19 do not require hospitalization, many more cases of prolonged COVID have occurred from these milder cases despite their lower risk. Among all people with long-term COVID, our study found that almost one in seven were still experiencing these symptoms a year later, and researchers do not yet know how many of these cases may become chronic. https://www.youtube.com/embed/e0REUL7pniU?wmode=transparent&start=0 Long-term COVID can affect almost every organ in the body.
Why it matters
Compared to COVID-19, relatively little is known about long-term COVID.
Our systematic, multinational analysis of this condition yielded findings that illuminate the potentially high human and economic costs of prolonged COVID worldwide. Many people living with this condition are adults of working age. Being unable to work for many months can cause people to lose their income, livelihood and housing. For parents or caregivers living long with COVID, the condition can leave them unable to care for their loved ones.
We believe, based on the widespread and severity of the long-term COVID, that it is preventing people from working and therefore contributing to labor shortages. A long COVID could also be a factor in how people are losing their jobs has disproportionately affected women.
We believe that finding effective and affordable treatments for people living with prolonged COVID should be a priority for researchers and research funders. They opened long COVID clinics for provide specialized carebut the treatments they offer are limited, inconsistent and it can be expensive.
Long-term COVID is a complex and dynamic condition – some symptoms disappear, then return and new symptoms appear. But researchers still don’t know why.
Although our study focused on the three most common symptoms associated with prolonged COVID that affect daily functioning, the condition can also include symptoms such as loss of smell and taste, insomnia, gastrointestinal problems, and headaches, among others. But in most cases, these additional symptoms appear along with the main symptoms for which we made assessments.
There are many unanswered questions about what predisposes people to prolonged COVID. For example, how to make different risk factors, including smoking and a high body mass index, affect how likely people are to develop the condition? Does he receive reinfected with SARS-CoV-2 alter the risk of prolonged COVID? Furthermore, it is not clear how protection against prolonged COVID changes with time within a person is vaccinated or strengthened against COVID-19.
The COVID-19 variants also present new puzzles. Researchers know this the omicron variant is less lethal than previous strains. Initial evidence suggests lower risk of prolonged COVID of omicron compared to earlier strains, but much more data is needed.
Most of the people we studied were infected with more lethal options which circulated before the omicron became dominant. We will continue to build on our long-term COVID research as part of Global Burden of Disease study — which makes projections of deaths and disabilities due to all diseases and injuries in every country in the world — to get a clearer picture of how the long-term toll of COVID-19 has shifted since omicron arrived.
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