Sarah Wulf Hanson is the Principal Investigator of Global Health Metrics at the University of Washington and Theo Vos is a Professor of Health Sciences at the University of Washington.
The big idea
Even sweetcases can have major and lasting effects on people’s health. This is one of the key findings from our recent multi-country Long COVID-19 – or Long COVID – study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
is defined as the continuation or development of symptoms three months after initial infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These symptoms last for at least two months after their onset without further explanation.
We found that a staggering 90% of people living with long COVID initially experienced only mild illness with COVID-19. After developing long COVID, however, the typical person experienced symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive issues such as brain fog — or a combination thereof — that affected day-to-day functioning. These symptoms had a health impact as severe as the long-term effects of head trauma. Our study also found that women are twice as likely as men and four times as likely as children to develop long COVID.
We analyzed data from 54 studies involving more than one million people from 22 countries who experienced symptoms of COVID-19. We counted how many people with COVID-19 developed clusters of new COVID-19 symptoms and determined how their risk of developing the disease varied by age, gender, and whether or not they were hospitalized for COVID-19. 19.
We found that patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had a greater risk of developing long-lasting COVID – and having longer-lasting symptoms – compared to people who had not been hospitalized. However, since the vast majority of COVID-19 cases do not require hospitalization, many other long COVID cases have arisen from these milder cases despite their lower risk. Among all people with long-term COVID, our study found that nearly one in seven people still had these symptoms a year later, and researchers don’t yet know how many of these cases may become chronic.
why is it important
Compared to COVID-19, relatively little is known about the long COVID.
Our systematic, multi-country analysis of this condition has provided results that shed light on the potentially high human and economic costs of prolonged COVID around the world. Many people with the disease are adults of working age. Inability to work for several months could lead to loss of income, livelihood and housing. For parents or caregivers living with long COVID, the condition may leave them unable to care for loved ones.
We believe, based on the pervasiveness and severity of the long COVID, that it is keeping people out of work and therefore contributing to labor shortages. The long COVID could also be a factor in how people losing their jobs have disproportionately affected women.
We believe that finding effective and affordable treatments for people living with long-term COVID should be a priority for researchers and research funders. Long COVID clinics have opened to provide specialized care, but the treatments they offer are limited, inconsistent and can be expensive.
Long COVID is a complex and dynamic condition – some symptoms go away, then come back, and new symptoms appear. But researchers don’t yet know why.
Although our study focused on the three most common symptoms associated with long COVID that affect day-to-day functioning, the condition can also include symptoms such as loss of smell and taste, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues stomachaches and headaches, among others. But in most cases, these additional symptoms occur along with the main symptoms for which we have made estimates.
There are many unanswered questions about what predisposes people to long COVID. For example, how do different risk factors, including smoking and high body mass index, influence the likelihood of developing the disease? Does being reinfected with SARS-CoV-2 change long-term COVID risk? Additionally, it is unclear how protection against long COVID changes over time after a person has been vaccinated or boosted against COVID-19.
The COVID-19 variants also present new puzzles. Researchers know that the Omicron variant is less lethal than previous strains. Early evidence shows a lower risk of long COVID from Omicron compared to earlier strains, but much more data is needed.
Most of the people we studied were infected with the more deadly variants that were circulating before omicron became dominant. We will continue to build on our research on the long COVID as part of the Global Burden of Disease study – which estimates death and disability from all diseases and injuries in all countries around the world – to get a clearer picture of how the long-term toll of COVID-19 changed once omicron arrived.
This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license.
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