Around 1 in 5 Americans May Develop Long COVID, Large CDC Study Finds

The risk of long COVID is even higher for virus survivors over age 65, who have a 1 in 4 chance of lingering symptoms

Covid heart
Heart check. Photo: Getty

Americans who survive COVID-19 are at a 20% likelihood of dealing with long COVID symptoms well after their infection, according to a large study from the Centers for Disease Control, released Tuesday.

Among adult survivors of COVID-19 under age 65, 1 in 5 continued to deal with at least one symptom of long COVID such as brain fog, blood clots, kidney failure, respiratory issues, cardiovascular problems and muscular conditions.

The risk of long COVID was even higher for virus survivors over age 65, with 1 in 4 dealing with lingering symptoms after their initial illness. They were also at a higher risk of kidney failure and neurological conditions than the younger age groups.

The study looked at the medical records of nearly 2 million Americans to compare the health conditions of those who had COVID-19 and those who did not. The study extended from March 2020 to Oct. 2021.

The most common long COVID symptoms were respiratory issues and muscle or joint pain.

These long COVID symptoms may "affect a patient's ability to contribute to the work force and might have economic consequences for survivors and their dependents," the study authors said, and that the "care requirements might place a strain on health services."

They also said their findings show the need for "routine assessment for post-COVID conditions among" the people who contract the virus, and that it's "critical for reducing the incidence and impact of post-COVID conditions."

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Currently, there are few resources for people with long COVID. In March, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who is dealing with long COVID himself, introduced a bill that would fund research into long COVID and the lasting effects of the virus and create treatment resources for those who are struggling. The bill, called the Comprehensive Access to Resources and Education (CARE) for Long COVID Act, has not yet moved to the Senate floor for a debate or vote.

Kaine said that he continues to have "24/7" nerve tingling that will not go away, despite having a mild case of COVID-19.

"I know how my body felt before I got COVID, I know how it felt when I got COVID, and it's not gone back to where it was before," he said. "That gives me an understanding for people who talk about these long COVID symptoms."

The large number of people with long COVID is "going to put a burden on our health care system," Kaine said, and is part of why he introduced this bill.

"It's also going to require some research and some understanding, compassion, for people dealing with these symptoms — adjustments and accommodations in the workplace. There's going to be a lot of consequences of this."

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