Women are the most at risk for so-called long COVID symptoms that last for more than two months after infection, according to a new study.
Researchers surveyed 16,091 U.S. adults who had tested positive for COVID-19 two months earlier. They found that 76.1% of long COVID cases occurred among women, compared to 23.9% among men. Their study was published Thursday in JAMA Network Open.
Long COVID survivors have reported experiencing extreme fatigue, loss of taste, inability to smell, breathlessness and muscle weakness months 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.
“I hope our work will be a reminder that we need to understand not only what causes long COVID, but how to treat it,” said lead researcher Dr. Roy H. Perlis, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The survey was conducted online from February 2021 to July 2022, and researchers made an effort to avoid over-sampling women, whom clinicians say are more likely than others to seek medical care. The average age of respondents was 40.
Overall, 15% of adults from all 50 states responding to the survey said they experienced long COVID symptoms.
Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the study echoes other reports of long COVID being more common in women than men.
“It’s unclear, at this time, what explains this discrepancy. But there are hypotheses about long COVID being linked to immune system dysfunction and females are well known to be more prone to auto-immune disorders,” said Dr. Adalja, an infectious disease specialist. “There is a major need for more research to unravel the risk factors, the mechanics, and the prognosis of long COVID.”
In logistic regression models, the study found that the odds of experiencing long COVID symptoms increased with the age of survey respondents for each decade after 40.
Vaccinated adults were significantly less likely than the unvaccinated to report long COVID.
While 87% of unvaccinated patients reported long COVID symptoms, only 10.6% of those who finished a primary vaccination series before testing positive said the same.
“I think knowing that long COVID is becoming less of a complication and that vaccination has a protective effect are important data,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, president-elect of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, commenting on the study.
Dr. del Rio, a professor at Emory University School of Medicine, added that the study highlights the need for women over 40 to be “followed closely” after testing positive.
Other doctors agreed, saying more research is needed to treat long COVID symptoms.
“I strongly believe we need to explore and assure that screening for long COVID is occurring amongst all outpatient touch clinics in an effort to assure there are no current health care disparities,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a physician at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.