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How Many Americans are Facing Long COVID?

New federal analysis highlights need for investment, research to understand condition

June 14, 2022

Researchers are beginning to study and understand the lingering symptoms from COVID-19 and the challenges they will pose to health care in the future.

A new CDC study builds on previous research that estimated between 7.7 million and 23 million people in the U.S. struggle with long COVID. A recent review of electronic health records during the pandemic found that as many as one in five COVID-19 survivors over 18 have a health condition that might be related to a previous COVID-19 infection. This includes neurological and mental health conditions, kidney failure, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and respiratory conditions, as well as blood clots and vascular issues.

The report follows recent advocacy from public health leaders about the importance of understanding the effects of COVID-19 on long-term health and the potential ramifications for patients, health care providers, and the broader economy.

“As more persons are exposed to and infected by SARS-CoV-2, reports of patients who experience persistent symptoms or organ dysfunction after acute COVID-19 and develop post-COVID conditions have increased,” the report says.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The findings:  In a review of millions of medical records from March 2020–November 2021, the researchers concluded as many as one in five COVID-19 survivors between 18–64 and one in four survivors 65 and older experienced a condition that might be attributable to previous COVID-19 infection.
  • Most common conditions:  Respiratory symptoms and musculoskeletal pain were the most common lingering post-COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Risks for Older adults:  COVID-19 survivors over 65 were at increased risk for neurologic conditions and four of five mental health conditions, including mood disorders, anxiety, and substance-related disorders. Post-COVID conditions affecting the nervous system are of particular concern, since this age group is already at high risk for stroke and neurocognitive impairment.
  • The big takeaway:  Preventing COVID-19 through vaccination, as well as routine assessment of conditions, is critical to reduce the effects of long COVID, especially among older adults.
  • Quotable:  “These findings can increase awareness for post-COVID conditions and improve post-acute care and management of patients after illness,” the report says.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration launched a “whole of government” effort to address long COVID. The initiative aims to “prevent, detect, and treat” long COVID and provide support to millions of Americans who have suffered from lingering COVID-related symptoms. Additional information about the new initiative to address long COVID is available online.

HAP will continue to monitor the latest COVID-19 public health developments and provide updates to members and the general public.