Long COVID remains common after a coronavirus infection, even though cases of the syndrome have declined since the pandemic began, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, data increasingly suggests that getting vaccinated reduces the risk of long COVID in children and adults – a factor that health officials have cited as part of the rationale that recommends that virtually all Americans should get vaccinated this year.
“Those who do not receive a COVID-19 vaccine have an increased likelihood of developing long COVID,” CDC epidemiologist Sharon Saydah said at a recent meeting of the agency’s advisory committee on vaccination practices. ‘immunization.
Long COVID refers to a wide range of physical and mental health problems that persist four weeks or more after a coronavirus infection. Although research has hinted at a possible correlation between the severity of the initial infection and the likelihood of developing long COVID, the syndrome can affect even those who had only mild symptoms – or none at all.
According to data from the 2022 Federal National Health Survey, 9% of U.S. adults ages 35 to 49 reported having had long COVID-19 at some point, and 4.7% reported they were currently suffering from long COVID at the time of their investigation, Saydah said. This age group has been hardest hit by long COVID.
Among people aged 50 to 64, 7.4% reported having previously had long COVID, while 3.8% reported currently having the syndrome. For those aged 65 and older, 4.2% reported having had long COVID at some point, while 2.3% reported having it currently.
Among younger adults, up to age 34, 6.8% reported having previously had long COVID, while 2.7% reported currently having it.
“Post-COVID conditions are common after SARS-CoV-2 infection,” said Megan Wallace, another CDC epidemiologist.
The prevalence of long COVID decreased from June 2022 to January 2023, but remained stable throughout the first half of this year, according to survey data.
“However, approximately one in four adults who currently report having long COVID say it involves significant activity limitations. And this proportion has not changed over the past year,” Saydah said.
These findings were detailed in a study published by the CDC in August and, the researchers wrote, “underscore the importance of COVID prevention, including staying up to date with recommended COVID-19 vaccinations, and could inform health service needs planning, disability policy, and other support services for people facing severe activity limitations due to long COVID.
One of the most curious aspects of long COVID is the wide range of symptoms linked to the syndrome. These include post-exertion 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 sexual desire or ability; loss of smell or taste; excessive thirst; a chronic cough; chest pain; and abnormal movements.
The root cause of long COVID has not been definitively established, although researchers are examining several possible explanations.
“We haven’t determined who gets long COVID and who doesn’t. And we haven’t necessarily determined who with certainty is not going to have serious illness,” said Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County public health director.
That’s why it’s so important that people continue to get vaccinated against COVID-19, doctors say.
“We now have even more data showing that vaccines can also reduce the risk of post-COVID conditions, including long COVID,” said Dr. Nava Yeganeh, medical director of the Preventable Disease Control Program by Los Angeles County vaccine.
Researchers have discovered specific long-term conditions associated with coronavirus infections in children and adults, Saydah added.
In children and adolescents, coronavirus infection was associated with an increased risk of heart disease, kidney failure, blood clots, diabetes, fatigue, smell and taste disorders, and neurological disorders .
Among adults who had COVID-19, 1 in 5 reported a health problem that may have been related to their COVID-19 illness, including neurological or mental health problems; renal failure; blood clots; and musculoskeletal, cardiovascular or respiratory problems.
“Long COVID symptoms and conditions can persist for months or years after an acute infection, and they also appear or reappear over time,” Saydah said.
In a prospective study of adults with acute COVID-19 illness – whether or not they tested positive for coronavirus infection – “we found that persistent symptoms decreased after three months, but that Approximately 16% continued to have persistent symptoms at 12 months. said Saydah.
Among veterans, researchers found that long-term COVID-related conditions decreased 90 days after acute coronavirus infection, but there was an increased risk that new conditions would persist up to two years after the acute COVID-19 illness, Saydah added.