- Long COVID-19 is thought to occur in 5 percent of nonhospitalized people diagnosed with COVID-19.
- It may occur in up to 80 percent of hospitalized coronavirus patients.
- A new study finds that the people most likely to develop long COVID-19 include women, people 40 and older, Black individuals, and people with preexisting health conditions.
A new analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that people most at risk of long COVID-19 include people over 40, women, Black people, and individuals with underlying health conditions.
Long COVID, also referred to as post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, is thought to occur in 5 percent of nonhospitalized people diagnosed with COVID-19 and up to 80 percent of hospitalized coronavirus patients.
Researchers suspect various structural and socioeconomic barriers in the U.S. healthcare system may contribute to certain groups’ higher rates of long COVID.
By learning more about who is impacted the most by long COVID, researchers hope better prevention and treatment strategies can be developed for the at-risk populations.
“Identifying disparities in post-acute COVID-19 sequelae can help guide the allocation of public health resources and improve health equity while groups recover from the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study states.
Here’s who is most at risk for long COVID
The study, led by the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services, evaluated 366 people 18 years old and older who tested positive for COVID-19 between April 1 and Dec. 10, 2020.
The patients were then interviewed at least 2 months after testing positive.
One-third of the patients reported at least 1 symptom 2 months after their positive diagnostic test.
The most common symptoms included fatigue, difficulty breathing, and parosmia (loss of smell).
The likelihood of symptoms was greater among women, people 40 and older, Black individuals, and people with preexisting health conditions.
Researchers say that as more people recover from COVID-19, more research is needed to understand and treat long COVID.
“Identification of groups disproportionately affected by post-acute COVID-19 sequelae can help develop efforts to prioritize preventions and treatment strategies, including vaccination of groups at higher risk for these long-term sequelae, and access to testing and care for post-acute sequelae,” the study stated.
What causes long COVID?
Researchers suspect various factors, though it’s unclear why some groups have a greater chance of developing long COVID.
The factors include inequities that increase peoples’ chances of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, inequities in testing and care, and differences in the presence of underlying health conditions among certain racial groups.
Dr. Albert Shaw, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist and professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, says that though the understanding of long COVID is still in the early stages, there are many possibilities why people develop the syndrome.
“There could be persistent SARS-CoV-2 virus (the cause of COVID-19), or perhaps not complete virus but parts of it, somewhere in the body despite recovery from acute infection (and even negative COVID-19 testing) — and this virus causes the immune system to continue to be activated,” Shaw said.
Another theory is that when fighting the coronavirus, the immune system also generates “autoantibodies” that fight normal proteins in the body.
Because symptoms are so diverse — including shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, and memory and concentration problems — there are possibly other explanations behind who develops long COVID and why, Shaw says.
One of the biggest takeaways from the study is that long COVID isn’t rare. In this study alone, one-third of the patients reported at least 1 symptom 2 months after testing positive.
“Because a significant proportion of people (one-third of the people surveyed in this study) can develop persistent symptoms of long COVID, this provides even more reason for everyone to take precautions against developing COVID-19, such as vaccination and mask-wearing indoors,” Shaw said.
The bottom line:
A new analysis from the CDC finds that people over 40, females, Black people, and individuals with underlying health conditions are most at risk of long COVID. It’s still unclear what causes some people to develop long-haul symptoms, but researchers are investigating the condition. By uncovering who is most impacted by long COVID, scientists hope to develop better prevention and treatment strategies.
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