The Burden and Evolution of Long COVID: What to Know and How to Help Protect Yourself
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated our understanding of the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus at an unprecedented pace. Identifying optimal mRNA sequencing, conducting clinical trials and receiving regulatory authorization all in less than a year was an accomplishment which was nothing short of extraordinary.
Despite all we’ve learned, there is still so much we have yet to understand about COVID-19’s long-term symptoms, which is a syndrome known as Long COVID. The World Health Organization (WHO) has defined Long COVID as the continuation or development of new symptoms three months after the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection, with these new symptoms lasting for at least two months.¹ Long COVID may not affect everyone in the same way. Fatigue, cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath are some of the more frequent symptoms, but there is a wide range of health problems and outcomes that may persist, resolve, and reemerge over different lengths of time.² These can range from neurological symptoms, to changes in smell or taste, to digestive symptoms.³
As researchers work to further understand this condition, we do know this:
Long COVID is more common than you may think. Nearly 1 in 5 American adults who have had COVID-19 report experiencing Long COVID symptoms.⁴ What’s more, about 1 in 4 children/adolescents with documented COVID-19 experience persistent symptoms for 4-12 weeks post-infection.⁵
A study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 26.4% of adults diagnosed with Long COVID reported significant activity limitations in day-to-day activities.⁶
There is also evidence to suggest Long COVID may impact the brain. In a literature review evaluating more than 10,000 patients who met the criteria for Long COVID, researchers identified a high prevalence of “brain fog” (32%), or difficulty concentrating and retaining new information, memory issues (28%) and other neurological symptoms.⁷
In the same analysis, researchers also reported a correlation between Long COVID symptoms and sleep disturbances (31%), anxiety (23%) and depression (17%).⁶
Protecting Yourself and Your Loved Ones Against Long COVID
Currently, there is no approved therapy specifically to treat this condition,⁸ but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do to help protect yourself. As it stands today, the only way to help prevent Long COVID is to not become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
COVID-19’s threat remains persistent in our community. From December 9 – 15, 2023, there were nearly 23,500 COVID-19-related hospitalizations in the U.S.⁹ Staying up to date with your COVID-19 vaccine can help protect you from Long COVID. Research suggests there is a strong association between receiving the COVID-19 primary vaccination series and a reduced risk of receiving a diagnosis of Long COVID, even if one subsequently develops SARS-CoV-2 infection.¹⁰
We encourage everyone who is eligible to receive their updated COVID-19 vaccine to help protect against this condition. Remember, vaccination may not be for everyone, and it's important to make informed decisions regarding your health. Consult with healthcare providers if you have any concerns or questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.