Millions Have Long Had COVID, and More Are Anticipated

According to the most recent US government study conducted in October, roughly 7% of all adult Americans may currently have long COVID, with symptoms that have persisted 3 months or longer. The issue is just now beginning to catch the attention of employers, the healthcare system, and legislators despite the fact that more than a quarter of people believe their illness is severe enough to seriously impair their day-to-day activities.

Long COVID is already having an impact on the economy and the healthcare system, and that impact is only going to increase because there is no cure or therapy in sight. Many experts are concerned about the potential long-term consequences, including the higher expenses of medical treatment and lost wages from being unable to work, as well as the policy repercussions that follow from treating these problems.

Katie Bach, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of a study that examined extended COVID’s effects on the labour market, said that at this point, “anyone looking at this honestly would conclude this is a significant concern.”

Similar findings were obtained from a pre-print of a study conducted by City University of New York researchers that was published on medRxiv in September and was based on a comparable demographic survey conducted between June 30 and July 2. Peer evaluation of the study has not taken place.

More than 7% of respondents reported having lengthy COVID at the time of the survey, which the researchers estimated to be 18.5 million adults in the United States. The same study also discovered that 25% of respondents, or roughly 4.7 million adults, claimed that their everyday activities were “a lot” impacted.

Not just the sick, but also the government and employers, may suffer as a result.

Government surveys and other studies are shedding light on the extent to which post-COVID-19 symptoms, also known as long COVID, are affecting populations in high-income countries around the world. Results can differ, but they typically fall within a similar range.

According to the World Health Organization, 10% to 20% of people who have COVID-19 go on to experience a variety of medium- to long-term post-COVID-19 symptoms that can range from mild to incapacitating. According to a recent study published at the end of October in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 15% of American adults who tested positive for COVID-19 reported having current, ongoing COVID symptoms. The U.S. Government Accountability Office places that number between 10% and 30%. Another study from the Netherlands indicated that 1 in 8 COVID-19 instances, or 12.7%, had a high likelihood of developing into protracted COVID.

In an article for The Guardian newspaper in October, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated, “It’s pretty evident that the condition is destroying people’s lives and livelihoods.”

“The world has already lost a sizable portion of its workforce to illness, death, exhaustion, and unplanned retirement due to a rise in long-term incapacity, which not only has an impact on the health system but also hurts the global economy… The effects of protracted COVID on all nations are quite serious, and action must be taken right now and consistently to match their scope.

Global Snapshot: Impact on Activities and Persistent Symptoms

Patients express a variety of chronic disorders, with excessive weariness, cognitive difficulties, and shortness of breath being among the most prevalent complaints. Many additionally experience controllable symptoms that become noticeably worse even with minimal physical or mental effort.

Nearly two times as many women as males appear to have lengthy COVID. Many people are especially susceptible to the illness because of additional medical issues and limitations. Additionally, those who experience greater barriers to health care access because of prejudice or socioeconomic inequity are at greater risk.

Many are in their prime working years, even if many are older. People aged 40 to 49 are more likely than any other age group, according to Census Bureau data, to have extended COVID, which has wider ramifications for job markets and the global economy. Long COVID is already expected to cost the United States trillions of dollars and have an impact on several industries, according to experts’ estimates.

According to Zachary Schwartz, MD, the medical director of Vancouver General Hospital’s Post-COVID-19 Recovery Clinic, “they’re telling me they’re staring at the computer screen and they’re unable to process the data, whether they’re in the financial sector, the medical system, or the legal system.”

The fact that they aren’t working, earning no money, and unsure about when or if things will improve is what people find to be the most upsetting.

In the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, nearly one-third of participants who reported having COVID-19 symptoms claimed their symptoms lasted three months or more. The most affected group was between the ages of 30 and 59, with roughly 32% experiencing symptoms. According to the poll, 1 in 7 adult U.S. citizens experienced extended COVID at some point during the epidemic, with around 1 in 18 reporting that it hindered their activity to some extent and 1 in 50 reporting that they encountered “a lot” of restrictions on their activities. Whatever way the statistics are sliced, a sizable portion of the population has been impacted by lengthy COVID.

The study of extended COVID’s causes and potential treatments, however, is still in its early stages.

According to David Cutler, PhD, a professor of economics at Harvard University who has written about the economic burden of lengthy COVID, “the amount of energy and time committed to it is way, far less than it should, given how many individuals are presumably affected.” “This is way, far underperforming. And I consider that to be absolutely bad.

Long COVID lives up to its name, with people reporting severe symptoms for months on end, according to population surveys and studies from throughout the world.

Early findings from a questionnaire conducted between spring and summer 2022, which found that just under 15% of adults with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 went on to have new or continuing symptoms 3 or more months later, were published in October by Statistics Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. 47.3% of people, or nearly half, had symptoms that persisted for a year or more. More than 1 in 5 people reported that their symptoms “often or always” restricted their day-to-day activities. These activities included regular tasks like making meals, running errands and doing chores, as well as more fundamental ones like taking care of themselves and moving around in their homes.

A whopping 75% of employees and students reported missing an average of 20 days of work or school.

According to Rainu Kaushal, MD, senior associate dean for clinical research at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, “we haven’t yet been able to pinpoint exactly when symptoms cease.” A national study on extended COVID in adults and kids is being co-led by her and is being supported by the National Institutes of Health’s RECOVER Initiative.

“However, it appears that many of the milder symptoms resolve after 4 to 6 weeks. Some symptoms seem to reach a second point of resolution after six months, and some symptoms do appear to be permanent. Patients with underlying diseases are more likely to experience these symptoms, she adds.

Decreased Risk

Experts advise urgent policy adjustments to assist those with extended COVIDs given the available data.

As lead primary investigator of the RECOVER adult cohort at Mount Sinai in New York City and an associate professor, Alexander Charney, MD, PhD, says, “The population needs to be prepared. Understanding long COVID is going to be a very long and tough task.” However, he asserts that there are many things the government can do to assist, including as establishing a network of interconnected clinics treating extended COVID, standardising best practises, and exchanging information.

That would significantly increase the likelihood that everyone believes they are not too far from a clinic where they may receive treatment for this specific ailment, he argues.

But specialists suggest that preventing COVID-19 infections in the first place is the only approach to prevent protracted COVID. This calls for equal access to diagnostics, treatments, and immunizations.

Kaushal declares, “I will argue that avoiding COVID remains the best treatment available at this time. This entails wearing a mask, avoiding crowded areas with inadequate ventilation and a high risk of exposure, and staying up to date on your vaccines, according to her.

Numerous studies, including a sizable U.K. study from May 2022, one from July, and the JAMA study from October, all contend that immunizations can help lower the chance of lengthy COVID.

According to Schwartz, immunisation is still by far the best thing the general population can do. “I am absolutely of the conviction that vaccination has lowered the incidence and total amount of lengthy COVID,” he says.

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