Long COVID affects 1 in 3 Americans who have had COVID-19, study finds

A new study by UCL and Dartmouth researchers estimates that one in three Americans who have had COVID-19 will develop long COVID, and one in seven Americans had long COVID by the end of 2022.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, also reveals how long COVID affects the mental health and daily functioning of millions of people in the U.S. and that long COVID is associated with increased risks of anxiety, low mood, physical impairment, and cognitive difficulties.

Long COVID and mental health of Americans who have had COVID

Long COVID is a condition that causes lasting symptoms after a COVID-19 infection. The researchers analyzed data from more than 460,000 people who responded to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey between June and December of 2022. They asked the respondents if they had ever had COVID-19 or long COVID, and assessed their mental and physical health outcomes.

They found that people who had ever had long COVID were more likely to report mood-related symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, worry, or a lack of interest in things, compared to those who had never had long COVID.

However, they also found that the risk of anxiety and low mood was lower for those who had been vaccinated against COVID-19, even if they had had long COVID. This suggests that vaccination may have a protective effect on mental health for people with long COVID.

Long COVID and physical and cognitive health

The study also showed that people with long COVID had more problems with memory, concentration, understanding, physical mobility, and daily activities, such as dressing and bathing, than those who had never had long COVID.

These problems were more common among people who had severe symptoms during their initial COVID-19 infection. About 31% of people who reported currently having long COVID said they initially had severe symptoms, compared to only 7% of people who had COVID-19 without developing long COVID.

Long COVID and demographic factors

The researchers also examined how long COVID varied by demographic factors, such as gender, race, age, income, and education. They found that long COVID was more prevalent among women, white people, middle-aged people, and people with lower income or education levels.

The state with the highest proportion of people reporting long COVID was West Virginia (18%), while the state with the lowest proportion was Hawaii (11%).

Implications and future research

The study is one of the largest and most comprehensive investigations of long COVID and its impacts on health and well-being in the U.S. The findings highlight the need for more awareness, support, and treatment for people with long COVID, as well as more research on the causes and mechanisms of long COVID.

Co-researcher Alex Bryson, a professor with the University College London’s Social Research Institute, said: “Here, we have found that long COVID continues to affect millions of people in the U.S., with some groups much more affected than others. Those who have ever had long COVID remain more likely to report low mood, challenges in carrying out daily tasks, and challenges with memory, concentration and understanding, compared to people who have never had long COVID”1.

The researchers also called for more studies to understand how vaccination may influence the risk and severity of long COVID, and to explore the potential benefits of booster shots for people with long COVID.

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