Long COVID caused or contributed to the deaths of 3,544 Americans during the first 30 months of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday.
Researchers based the report, the first to examine long COVID deaths nationwide, on death certificate data from January 2020 through the end of June 2022.
The CDC defines long COVID, or Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19, as “long-term symptoms experienced after a person has recovered from acute infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.”
Just 0.3% of the 1,021,487 death certificates listing the coronavirus as the underlying or contributing cause of death mentioned long COVID, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found.
The actual death toll is likely much higher since the understanding of long-term COVID effects is still evolving, the report noted.
These findings suggest long COVID symptoms could be signs of a shortening lifespan, said CDC health scientist Farida Ahmad, the report’s lead author.
“Until now, COVID-19 surveillance has focused mostly on acute infections and directly involved deaths. These findings show that prior COVID-19 infection can potentially have long-term effects on mortality,” Ms. Ahmad told The Washington Times.
Long COVID survivors have reported extreme fatigue, loss of taste, inability to smell, breathlessness and muscle weakness more than a year after no longer testing positive. In the most extreme cases, they have been unable to return to work for up to six months after infection.
The CDC report suggests that long COVID sufferers should keep receiving medical attention as long as their symptoms last, some experts said.
“More attention is warranted to help COVID survivors so they didn’t survive merely to die weeks to months later,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Americans older than 65 made up 78.4% of the long COVID-related deaths recorded during the first 30 months of the pandemic, the CDC found.
Long COVID deaths were split almost evenly between males (51.5%) and females (48.5%) — a surprise since COVID infections have disproportionately killed more men than women.
Chronic issues like heart conditions have put men more at risk of dying from COVID, but research has shown that women are more likely to have long COVID.
A study of 16,091 Americans who tested positive for COVID, published Oct. 27 in JAMA Network Open, found women accounted for 76.1% of those still experiencing symptoms two months after infection. Overall, 15% of infected adults responding to the survey said they experienced long COVID symptoms.
Confusion about the causes and risk factors of long COVID make it hard to interpret the CDC report, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
The report fails to break down cases by severity or distinguish “deaths that are directly attributable to long Covid from deaths occurring in individuals with long COVID,” he noted.
“It relies on death certificate data for a condition that has nebulous diagnostic criteria,” said Dr. Adalja, an infectious disease specialist. “There needs to be much more granularity to be able to understand a phenomenon like this.”
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.