Americans with Long COVID Struggling to Perform Daily Activities
As America proceeds to wrap up the second year of this global pandemic, many U.S. adults have discovered that they are suffering from long COVID. Also referred to as long-haul COVID, post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, and post-COVID condition, the mystery surrounding long COVID has prompted a surge of research and studies within the medical community to obtain the answers that people need.
Long COVID, Explained
Those affected by long COVID are people who contracted the COVID-19 virus, but never made a full recovery. While some symptoms of long COVID are considered “lingering symptoms”—referring to effects similar to those during the infection—others are still unclear. More common effects of long COVID include:
- Respiratory issues (such as difficulty breathing)
- Brain fog (sluggish thoughts or difficulty concentrating)
- Joint or muscle pain
- Heart palpitations
- Digestive issues
- Blood clots and vascular issues (such as DVT and pulmonary embolism)
- Changes to menstrual cycle
- Other symptoms that worsen with mental or physical effort
Other effects of long COVID are even more severe, including cognitive deficits, memory loss, and significant psychiatric disorders (such as seizures, epilepsy, and dementia).
Who Is Impacted by Long COVID?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those struggling with post-acute sequelae of SARS CoV-2 infection (PASC) can experience post-COVID symptoms that persist for weeks, months, or indefinitely to date.
Perhaps even more troubling is that although long COVID symptoms tend to be more severe in individuals who suffered severe cases, significant symptoms can persist even in patients who experienced mild to moderate cases, too. Even Americans who contracted the COVID-19 virus with little to no symptoms aren’t immune to the long-term effects of long COVID.
In some cases, patients who develop long COVID were unaware they ever had COVID in the first place, as they may not have known they were infected or not been tested when they contracted the virus. The CDC also states that those who were not vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus are prone to suffer more severe long COVID symptoms than those who got vaccinated.
Unfortunately, there is no test to formally diagnose post-COVID conditions. This can make it difficult for the medical community to properly diagnose effects that could be caused by either long COVID or other outlying medical issues that a patient is suffering from. We do know, however, that long COVID effects can start as early as 4 weeks following infection.
What Causes Long COVID?
Unfortunately, there is not yet enough evidence to draw concrete conclusions regarding the cause of long COVID. However, there are various leading theories, including neuroinflammation, cerebrovascular ischemia, a direct viral infection of the brain, and lingering fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in affected body tissues.
Despite the uncertainties surrounding the cause of long COVID, we can take heart in the fact that groundbreaking research and studies are currently ongoing and will inevitably shed more light on the long-term effects of the coronavirus in time. Various treatments for COVID-19 have already gained FDA approval, and more medications are being prepped for trial as we prepare to enter 2023.
How Is Long COVID Impacting American Life?
According to data from the CDC, 1 in 5 American adults who contracted the COVID-19 virus is suffering from long COVID. A recent 2022 census conceded that of the 18 million U.S. adults who are suffering from long COVID (aged 18-65), 2-4 million are out of work due to the effects of post-COVID conditions.
CDC data has revealed the following facts about U.S. adults and long COVID:
- Older adults are less likely to have long COVID than younger adults. The population of people aged 50-59 with long COVID is three times larger than the population aged 80+ with long COVID.
- Women are more likely than men to have long COVID. 9.4% of women experience long COVID compared to 5.5% of men.
- Long COVID is most prevalent among the Hispanic population. They take the lead at 9% followed by non-Hispanic White (7.5%) and Black (6.8%). Non-Hispanic Asian adults are rated even lower at 3.7%.
- The prevalence of long COVID varies from state to state. The states with the highest rate of long COVID among adults include Kentucky (12.7%) and Alabama (12.1%) followed by Tennessee and South Dakota (11.6%). States with the lowest percentages include Hawaii (4.5%), Maryland (4.7%), and Virginia (5.1%).
Of the 18 million U.S. adults with long COVID, a whopping 81% report that the effects are prohibiting them from fulfilling their day-to-day activities. 25% describe their daily limitations as significant.
It appears that age also plays a pivotal role in these statistics, as the majority of those who express being severely inhibited by long COVID symptoms fall into the younger age population (primarily 18-29 years old). Overall, a grand total of 15 million adults with long COVID express being unable to perform daily activities as a result.
Impact of Long COVID on the Economy
Of the 18 million American adults suffering from long COVID, a staggering 16 million are of working age. You can imagine the impact this has had (and will continue to have) on our nation’s recovering economy, not to mention public health.
A recent study revealed that the annual cost of lost wages alone is approximately $170 billion each year (with the potential to reach a threshold of $230 billion). The summary is simple: to preserve our nation's economy, our country must take necessary policy actions to ensure that those with long COVID recover at a higher and faster rate than they currently are. Some of these proposed policy actions include:
- Better prevention and treatment options
- Expanded paid sick leave
- Improved employer accommodations
- Expanded access to disability insurance
- Improved data collection
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