Long COVID responses are getting clearer, slowly

Long COVID continues to offer more questions than answers 27 months into the coronavirus pandemic, although researchers are slowly gaining a better understanding.

The long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection, more commonly known as long COVID, have been the subject of more than 1,650 articles published in the National Library of Medicine since 2020.

When asked about long COVID, most doctors will offer their experience and/or research with a caveat – more research is needed to be sure.

“We’re really just starting to sort this all out,” said Dr. Matthew Sims, director of infectious disease research at Beaumont Health. “It’s complicated, it’s confusing. To be honest, I think we’re going to find out that long COVID is the same kind of problem that we see with other things and all the research that’s going to end up being done on long COVID, because it’s such a big problem, can help other diseases like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, which are really difficult to understand at the moment. We do not know.

Researchers have made some progress, however. Below are some common questions and answers related to long COVID.

What is the long COVID?

The typical definition of a long COVID is the long-term symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 that can be experienced weeks, months or even years after the primary infection.

As for the specific symptoms that persist, these vary.

A recent survey by the Center for Health and Research Transformation (CHRT) at the University of Michigan found that respiratory problems were the most common permanent symptom, followed by loss or alteration of sense of smell or taste, and persistent anxiety, depression or other mental disorders. health problems.

Other common symptoms were nervous system symptoms, neurological problems, diabetes, heart problems, kidney damage and fatigue.

The Cover Michigan Survey is a telephone and online public opinion survey that includes a random sample of Michigan adults. Its findings were analyzed by CHRT staff, who said many of their findings were supported by national data and additional research.

“I like to think it’s kind of the tip of the iceberg with the long COVID, because everything about this virus, this pandemic and this disease is so new and every day we learn even more things” , said Melissa Riba, director of research and evaluation at CHRT.

In July 2021, long COVID became a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. An individualized assessment is needed to determine if a person’s long COVID condition is severely limiting.

What is its frequency?

The Cover Michigan Survey found that more than one in three Michiganders who reported a diagnosis of COVID-19 identified themselves as a COVID long hauler. While the sample size was limited — 138 people with COVID, of whom 48 reported long COVID — it matched or followed trends found in other studies.

Expanding globally, the University of Michigan School of Public Health analyzed 50 studies and more than 1.6 million people and found that the prevalence of long COVID was around 43%.

“With the overall rates, if you look at most of the literature, it’s usually between 25% and 43%, with most sources falling in a narrower range between 30% and 35%,” Jonathan Tsao said. , project manager at the CHRT.

It’s not yet clear which demographics are more or less susceptible to long COVID, though researchers are gaining clarity on this question.

“The risk factors for getting long COVID are somewhat similar to those for people who are at increased risk for severe illness,” said Dr. Liam Sullivan, infectious disease specialist at Spectrum Health. “That being said, there are a lot of people who have had mild COVID cases who have also had issues with long COVIDs. So it hasn’t been fully defined yet.

A Swedish study of more than 205,000 COVID patients found that 32% of people admitted to an intensive care unit developed long COVID. This compares to 6% of people hospitalized but not placed in intensive care and 1% of outpatients.

Other groups that have reported disproportionate levels of long COVID are women, people ages 40 to 54, and people with preexisting conditions, according to a 2021 study conducted in California and published by the CDC.

In Michigan, the CHRT found that women were four times more likely to report long COVID and diabetics were twice as likely as their counterparts.

Does the vaccine offer protection against long COVID?

A study published last month in Nature Medicine used veterans’ health records from 2021 to assess potential vaccine-induced protection against long COVID. The St. Louis, Missouri study determined that COVID vaccination reduced the risk of long-lasting COVID by approximately 15%.

It was one of, if not the largest, study to date. The researchers looked at the records of 34,000 vaccinated people with breakthrough infections, 113,000 unvaccinated people who got COVID, and more than 13 million people who didn’t get COVID.

The study found no difference in specific persistent symptoms or symptom severity.

Dr. Sullivan said caution should be exercised in extrapolating these findings to the general population, when the study population consisted of veterans with an average age of 60 and with underlying risk factors.

“Getting vaccinated doesn’t eliminate your long-term risk of COVID,” he said. “You still have a prolonged COVID risk; what is probably starting to become clear is that the risk is probably lower and people are not getting such long and severe COVID, but this question has yet to be answered more fully.

Sullivan said he anticipates the results of a larger study conducted by the CDC and some partner universities to better define and understand the scope of long COVID.

What are the economic impacts of the long COVID?

Cover Michigan’s latest survey found that long haulers are more likely to be in worse financial shape than a year ago, compared to those who have recovered from COVID and those who have never been. infected.

Since long haulers may be unable to function at their pre-COVID capacity, they are more likely to take longer medical leave, work reduced hours, have their pay cut or quit their jobs, found the researchers.

A nationwide survey of more than 1,000 COVID patients found that 44% of workers with long-term COVID reduced their weekly work hours. A majority of respondents said they needed to take sick leave due to long COVID symptoms.

Researchers who analyzed Michigan’s long COVID data said more studies are needed on the impact of statewide efforts to help long haulers. They recommend:

  • Further research to understand the health and economic impacts of the long COVID in Michigan, as well as funding programs;
  • Development of programs, policies and funding approaches to strengthen existing clinical care resources for long haul;
  • Organizing cross-industry partnerships to address the impact of long COVID across the state.

By releasing the results of their survey, the CHRT researchers said they hoped to raise awareness among lawmakers and business leaders about the prevalence of long haul, as well as people who suffer and feel alone with their long-term symptoms. term.

“We want to sound the alarm, raise a flag to say ‘hey this is potentially going to be and could be a very big problem for policy makers, for the state, for the economy, for the healthcare system and we have to be prepared,” Riba said.

If you have any questions about COVID-19 that you would like answered, please submit them to covidquestions@mlive.com to consider for future MLive reports.

Learn more about MLive:

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