Dreaded side effect rears its ugly head in the latest COVID variant


Across the world, death rates and hospitalizations from COVID continue to fall. But our successful mitigation of the worst effects of the 33-month-old pandemic belies a growing crisis.

More and more people survive COVID and stay out of the hospital, but more and more people also living with long-term symptoms of COVID. Fatigue. Heart problems. Stomach problems. Lung problems. Confusion. Symptoms that can last for months or even a year or more after the infection goes away.

As many as 21 percent of Americans who contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus this summer suffered from prolonged COVID-19 four weeks after infection, according to a new study from the City University of New York.

That’s 19 percent more than figures reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June.

Compare those numbers with recent deaths and hospitalizations from COVID in the US — three percent and 0.3 percent, respectively. Long COVID is by far the most likely serious outcome of a novel coronavirus infection. And possibly increasingly likely.

The CUNY study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, focused on American adults, but the results have implications for the entire world. Worldwide, long-term symptoms are partial to replace Covid deaths. After all, more COVID survivors means more people at risk for long-term symptoms. And long COVID is cumulative – people get sick and stay sick for a while.

“Despite an increased level of protection against long-term COVID through vaccination, the overall number of people with long-term COVID in the US may be increasing,” epidemiologist Denis Nash, the lead author of the CUNY study, told The Daily Beast. That is, more people every day catch long COVID then to recover of long COVID.

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But understanding of long COVID, not to mention to prevent it is not a priority in the global epidemiological establishment. That has to change, Nash said. “I believe it is long past time to focus on long-term COVID, in addition to preventing hospitalizations and deaths.”

In recent weeks, authorities worldwide have registered about half a million new COVID cases per day. That’s not as low as the 400,000 new cases per day seen by health authorities during the biggest drop in cases in February 2021. But it’s close.

What’s? For real However, it is remarkable how few of those half a million per day COVID infections are fatal. Lately, just 1,700 people died each day — that’s one-fifth the number who died daily in February last year, when the number of new infections each day was only slightly higher.

The number of hospital admissions for severe COVID cases has also fallen. No global statistics are available, but in the US, the number of hospitalizations from COVID dropped from 15,000 per day 19 months ago to just 3,700 per day today.

It is not difficult to explain the decline in the number of deaths and hospital admissions. Worldwide, about two-thirds of adults are at least partially vaccinated. Billions of people also have antibodies from previous infections that they have survived. Any antibody helps to smooth out the absolute worst results.

It is certainly valuable to save lives, but quality of life is also very important.

But the incidence of long-term COVID seems to be ticking up. The high reinfection rate may be one reason. Currently, one in six people contract the virus more than once. Repeated infections are associated with an increased risk of a slew of problems that, not coincidentally, match the symptoms of long-term COVID, concluded a team of scientists from Washington University School of Medicine and the Saint Louis Health Care System of the U.S. Veterans Administration. in a study this summer. The more reinfections, the longer COVID.

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After compiling July’s numbers, Nash’s team concluded that 7 percent of all American adults — that’s more than 18 million people — had long-term COVID at that time. If the same percentage applies to the entire world — and there’s no reason to believe it doesn’t — the global caseload for long-term COVID would have crossed 560 million this summer.

That number is likely a lot higher now, given the summer spike in infections caused by BA.5 – one million global new cases a day in July.

One thing that surprised Nash and his teammates is that the risk of long-term COVID is not uniform across the population. Young people and women are more likely to contract COVID for a long time, the CUNY team found. Nash said the higher vaccination rates among older adults and seniors could explain the former. But the latter remains a mystery. “Further study of these groups may provide some clues about risk factors,” he said.

Why there is a sex gap in long-term COVID risk is just an unanswered question that scientists and health officials could try to answer. They could also work out new vaccine strategies and public health messages specifically for long-term COVID.

But in general, they don’t do much to address the risk of long-term symptoms, Nash said. Nearly three years after the COVID pandemic, authorities are still overwhelmingly focused on preventing hospitalizations and deaths – and nothing but hospitalizations and deaths.

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“Focusing exclusively on these outcomes could arguably exacerbate the long-term COVID situation,” Nash explained, “as there is a significant amount of long-term COVID among people who have had only mild or less severe SARS-CoV-2 infections.”

In that sense, COVID has long been a silent crisis. One that potentially affects more than half a billion people, but is not a major focus of research or public health policy. “It’s certainly valuable in saving lives, but quality of life is also very important — and that may be lacking in people who have had COVID for a long time,” Cindy Prins, a University of Florida epidemiologist, told The Daily Beast.

Of course, we are not powerless to prevent COVID for a long time. The same tools that can prevent hospitalization and death from COVID can also: also reduce the chance of long-term symptoms – all because of the chance of each COVID, short or long. Get vaccinated. Keep track of your boosters. Put on a mask in crowded indoor areas.

But given the trend in the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, long-term COVID could become a bigger and bigger problem, even among the most cautious of people — and one that begs for specific solutions. The virus is still mutating. And each new variant or subvariant is generally more contagious than the last, meaning that there are more and more breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated and boosted individuals.

If you’re currently up to date on your shots, the chances of COVID killing you or ending up in the hospital are slim. But the chances of getting sick from it, possibly for a very long time, are significant – and apparently increasing.