Long COVID can be fatal, new report confirms

Long COVID– a condition with symptoms ranging from respiratory to neurological, from overwhelming fatigue to chronic pain – can be debilitating. And in some cases, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Long COVID can even be fatal.

From January 2020 to June 2022, Long COVID contributed to more than 3,500 deaths in the United States, according to death certificate data analyzed by NCHS researchers. About 0.3% of death certificates that listed COVID-19 as an underlying or contributing cause of death also listed Long COVID, for an age-adjusted mortality rate of 6.3 per 1 million people .

“The good news is that…overall, post-COVID is not a life-threatening disease,” says Dr. Aaron Friedberg, intern physician who treats patients with Long COVID at Wexner Medical Center in Ohio State. University (and who was not involved in the new research). “Most people are getting better post-COVID.”

But Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Long COVID researcher (who was also not part of the NCHS report), fears the problem is worse than it looks. paper.

Read more: Long COVID isn’t the only post-viral illness

In the report, researchers looked at death certificates that listed COVID-19 as a contributing or underlying cause of death, then zoomed in on those that explicitly listed Long COVID or a related term, such as “post-COVID.” or “long-haul”. COVID.” This process overlooks anyone who had but did not test positive for COVID-19 or who was never correctly diagnosed with Long COVID, says Al-Aly. The number of death certificates mentioning Long COVID has increased over time, suggesting that awareness of the disease was lower at the start of the pandemic, he adds.

Additionally, some post-COVID complications are less noticeable than common symptoms such as fatigue and brain fog. Studies suggest COVID-19 survivors are at increased risk of serious health problems including organ failure, heart attack and blood clots – but these things cannot be attributed to the virus on a death certificate, Al-Aly says.

“Our data systems are built on this archaic assumption that…if you have a virus infection, most action happens within the first 30 days,” says Al-Aly. In reality, however, many viruses can have lasting health consequenceswhether or not they are related to the initial infection.

Chronic illnesses, including Long COVID, can also exacerbate pre-existing conditions, potentially pushing a patient from stable to critical, Friedberg notes. According to the NCHS report, heart disease was the underlying cause of almost 9% of long COVID-related deaths, while cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, respiratory disease and diabetes each accounted for between 2% and 3%. There have also been documented cases of people with Long COVID die by suicide.

According to the NCHS report, nearly 80% of deaths involving Long COVID were in adults aged 65 and older, and a similar percentage were in white adults. However Long COVID appears to be more prevalent among women than menjust under half of the related deaths were recorded among women.

Regardless of the report’s exact numbers, Friedberg says its findings underscore a familiar message: do all you can to avoid contracting COVID-19, which is the best way to reduce the risk of Long COVID. Vaccines, masksand ventilation are important tools for both your current and future health.

“We really have no way to stop post-COVID right now. It’s a lottery every time you get COVID,” Friedberg says. “I wish I could cancel this lottery.”

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Write to Jamie Ducharme at [email protected].

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