Worldwide, rates of death and hospitalization due to COVID are falling. But our successful mitigation of the worst effects of a 33-month pandemic belies the escalating crisis.
More and more people are surviving COVID and being out of hospital, but more and more people are Also living with long-term COVID symptoms. Tiredness. 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 caught the SARS-CoV-2 virus this summer suffered from long COVID that started four weeks after infection, according to a new study from the City University of New York.
That’s an increase from the 19 percent reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June.
Compare these numbers with recent COVID death and hospitalization rates in the US – three percent and 0.3 percent, respectively. Long COVID is by far the most likely serious consequence of any new coronavirus infection. And probably more and more.
The CUNY study, which is not yet peer-reviewed, focused on American adults, but the results have implications for the entire world. Worldwide, the long-term symptoms are partially exchange Covid deaths. After all, more COVID survivors mean more people at risk of long-term symptoms. And long COVID is cumulative – people get sick and stay sick for a while.
“Despite the increased levels of protection against long COVID after vaccination, it may be that the total number of people with long COVID in the United States is increasing,” said epidemiologist Denis Nash, lead author of the CUNY study in an interview with The Daily Beast. This means more people every day catch long COVID than recover from long COVID.
But by understanding the long COVID, let alone prevention this is not a priority in the global epidemiological establishment. This has to change, said Nash. “I believe it’s long been time to focus on long-term COVID in addition to preventing hospitalizations and deaths.”
In recent weeks, authorities have registered around half a million new COVID cases worldwide daily. This is not as low as the 400,000 new cases per day that health agencies saw during the biggest drop in cases in February 2021. But it is close.
What is? really however, it is remarkable how few of these half a million COVID infections a day are fatal. Recently, only 1,700 people died every day – that’s a fifth of those dying every day in February last year, when the number of new infections each day was only slightly higher.
Hospitalization for serious COVID cases has also been reduced. Global statistics are not available, but in the United States, the number of COVID-related hospitalizations has dropped from 15,000 a day 19 months ago to just 3,700 a day today.
The decline in deaths and hospitalizations is not difficult to explain. Worldwide, around two-thirds of adults are at least partially vaccinated. Billions of people also have antibodies from past infections that they survive. Each antibody helps to dull the worst outcomes.
“Surely saving a life is valuable, but quality of life is also very important.“
But the incidence of long COVID appears to be increasing. One of the reasons may be the high rate of reinfection. Today, one in six people gets the virus more than once. Recurring infections are associated with an increased risk of a whole host of problems that do not coincidentally correspond to the symptoms of long COVID, a team of researchers at Washington University School of Medicine and the Saint Louis Health Care System of the US Veterans Administration found in a study conducted this summer. . The more reinfections, the longer COVID lasts.
Analyzing the July data, Nash’s team concluded that 7 percent of all American adults – or more than 18 million people – had a long period of COVID at that time. If the same rate applies to the entire world – and there is no reason to believe it is not – the global number of COVID cases could exceed 560 million this summer.
That number is probably much higher now, given the summer infection spike caused by BA.5 million new cases worldwide per day in July.
One of the things that surprised Nash and his teammates is that the risk of long-term COVID is not uniform across the population. CUNY’s team found that young people and women are at a higher risk of contracting COVID for a long time. Nash said higher vaccination rates among the elderly and seniors might explain the former. But the latter remains a mystery. “Further examination of these groups may provide some clues about the risk factors,” he said.
Why there is a gender difference in long-term COVID risk is just one of the unanswered questions that scientists and health officials may be trying to answer. They could also develop new vaccination strategies and public health messages specifically for long-term COVID.
But overall, they don’t do much to counter the risk of long-term symptoms, Nash said. Almost three years after the COVID pandemic, authorities remain overwhelmingly focused on preventing hospitalizations and deaths – and just prevention of hospitalizations and deaths.
“Just focusing on these results could possibly make things worse with long COVID,” explained Nash, “because there is a significant amount of long COVID among people who have only had mild or less severe SARS-CoV-2 infections.”
In this sense, long COVID is a silent crisis. One that affects potentially over half a billion people, but is not the main focus of research or public health policy. “Surely saving lives is valuable, but quality of life is also very important – and that can be missing from long-standing COVID sufferers,” said Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida.
Of course, we are not powerless to prevent long-term COVID. The same tools that can prevent hospitalization and death from COVID can: Also reduce the likelihood of developing long-term symptoms – all by reducing the chance of having a everyone COVID, short or long. Get vaccinated. Stay on top of boosters. Cover up in crowded rooms.
But given the trend in the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, long COVID could become an increasing problem even among the most cautious of people – and a problem begging for concrete solutions. The virus keeps mutating. And each new variant or sub-variant was more contagious than the previous one, meaning more and more breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated and fortified individuals.
If you are up to date with your injections, the chances of COVID killing you or putting you in hospital are low. But the chances of you falling ill, potentially for a very long time, are significant – and apparently increasing.