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More than one in five adult COVID survivors in the US could develop long COVID, CDC study finds

One in five adult COVID survivors under the age of 65 in the United States have experienced at least one health condition that could be considered long COVID, according to a large new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In patients aged 65 and over, the number is even higher: one in four.

In an indication of the seriousness with which the federal health agency takes the problem of long COVID, the study authors – members of the CDC’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Team – recommended “an evaluation of post-COVID conditions in people who survive COVID-19.”

Long COVID is the term used to describe an array of symptoms that can last months or longer after initial infection with the coronavirus. Researchers have identified post-COVID health issues in many different organ systems, including the heart, lungs, and kidneys. Other problems concerned the blood circulation, the musculoskeletal system and the endocrine system; gastrointestinal conditions, neurological issues and psychiatric symptoms were also identified in the study.

In both age groups, COVID patients were twice as likely as uninfected people to develop respiratory symptoms and lung problems, including pulmonary embolism, the study found. Post-COVID patients aged 65 and older were at higher risk than the younger group of developing kidney failure, neurological disorders and most mental health problems.

“It is sobering to see the results of this study re-confirm the extent of organ dysfunction and the magnitude of the problem,” said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, head of research and development at VA St. Louis Health Care System and a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the research.

The study assessed the electronic medical records of almost 2 million people – comparing those who had been infected with the coronavirus to those who had not. The most common post-COVID conditions, regardless of age, were respiratory problems and musculoskeletal pain.

The risk of post-COVID patients aged 65 and older developing the 26 health conditions assessed by the study was 20% to 120% higher than that of people who did not contract COVID. People aged 18 to 64 had a 10% to 110% higher risk than uninfected people of developing 22 of the health problems. But in this age group, COVID survivors were no more likely than uninfected people to develop most mental health problems, substance use disorders or strokes and conditions similar cerebrovascular.

Al-Aly said the results of the study “have the potential to translate into millions of people with new diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, neurological problems. These are permanent conditions – certainly manageable, but not curable”.

The study analyzed the records of 353,164 people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the first 18 months of the pandemic, starting in March 2020. It compared them to the records of 1.64 million people who had a medical visit during the same month in which the COVID patients were diagnosed but were not infected with the coronavirus during the study period, which ended on October 31, 2021.

People in both groups who had a history of any of the 26 health conditions in the previous year were excluded from the study – an attempt by the researchers to take into account medical problems that patients did not have. developed only after I had COVID.

The study, which involved patients seen at healthcare facilities that use a registration system operated by Cerner Corp., a large medical data company, said COVID patients included people admitted to hospitals, seen in emergency departments or diagnosed on an outpatient basis. The researchers did not report the number of patients in each group, one of many limitations of the study results.

Between 30 days and 365 days after their coronavirus diagnosis, 38% of patients experienced one or more new health conditions, compared to 16% of non-COVID patients, according to the study. The younger age group, 18 to 64, was somewhat less likely to have these issues – 35% developed long COVID issues, compared to 15% of uninfected people. In the age group 65 and over, 45% had new health problems, compared to 19% of those who were not infected.

Based on these percentages, the study authors calculated that almost 21% of the younger group and almost 27% of the older group developed health problems that could be attributed to long COVID.

The study did not examine patients’ vaccination status and did not report characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender or geographic location. It also did not identify which coronavirus variants were linked to each case.

The CDC authors concluded that post-COVID conditions could “affect a patient’s ability to contribute to the workforce and could have economic consequences for survivors and their dependents.” They added that “demands for care could strain health services” in “communities that are experiencing large increases in COVID-19 cases.”

Al-Aly said he agrees with people with COVID being medically evaluated for potential new health conditions.

“Now that we know that COVID-19 can have serious long-term consequences,” he added, “we need to develop additional tools to reduce the risk of COVID in the long term.”

This article originally appeared in tthe New York Times.

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