1 in 10 people get long-term COVID after Omicron

About 10% of people seem to suffer from long-term COVID after a omicron infectiona lower estimate than earlier in the pandemic, according to a study of nearly 10,000 Americans that aims to help decipher the mysterious situation.

Early findings from National Institutes of Health Study Highlight a dozen symptoms that best distinguish prolonged COVID, the catch-all term for the sometimes debilitating health problems that last for months or years after even a mild case of COVID-19.

Millions around the world have chronic COVID, with many more wide variety of symptoms including fatigue and brain fog. Scientists still don’t know what causes it, why it only affects some people, how to treat it — or even how best to diagnose it. Better definition of the condition is key for research to get answers.

“Sometimes I hear people say, ‘Oh, everyone’s a little tired,'” said Dr. Leora Horwitz on NYU Langone Health, one of the study’s authors. “No, there’s something different about people with prolonged COVID and that’s important to know.”

The new research, published Thursday in Journal of the American Medical Associationincluded more than 8,600 adults with COVID-19 at various points in the pandemic, comparing them to another 1,100 who had not been infected.

By some estimates, about 1 in 3 of the COVID-19 patients experience prolonged COVID. That’s similar to NIH study participants who reported getting sick before the omicron variant began spreading in the US in December 2021. That’s also when the study opened, and researchers noted that people with long-term symptoms of COVID may be more likely to enroll.

But about 2,230 patients had their first coronavirus infection after the study began, allowing them to report symptoms in real time — and only about 10% experienced long-term symptoms after six months.

Early research suggests that the risk of long-term COVID is reduced since omicron appeared; its descendants are still spreading.

The bigger question is how to identify and help those with long-term COVID.

The new study points to a dozen symptoms that help define the COVID high: fatigue; brain fog; dizziness; stomach symptoms; heart palpitations; sexual problems; loss of smell or taste; thirst; chronic cough; chest pain; worsening symptoms after activity and abnormal movements.

The researchers assigned the scores to the symptoms, aiming to establish a threshold that would ultimately help ensure that the same patients were enrolled in studies of possible long-term treatment of COVID, as part of study at NIH or elsewhere, for an apples-to-apples comparison.

Horwitz stressed that doctors shouldn’t use that list to diagnose someone with elevated COVID — it’s a potential research tool. Patients can have one of the symptoms, or many — or other symptoms not on the list — and still suffer from the long-term consequences of the coronavirus.

Everyone is doing long-term studies of COVID even though “we don’t know what it means,” Horwitz said.

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