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2023 Study Aims to Establish System-Based Criteria for Long COVID

2023 Study Seeks to Establish Symptom-Based Criteria for Long COVID

In May 2023, a new study sought to establish symptom-based criteria for PASC (“postacute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection”)—a condition more commonly known as long COVID.

By examining various symptom-based long COVID cases, researchers hoped to take the first step toward defining long COVID as a stand-alone illness. More specifically, the stated purpose of the study was to “develop a definition of PASC using self-reported symptoms and describe PASC frequencies across cohorts, vaccination status, and number of infections.”

Although the aftermath of any global pandemic would be challenging, there are added difficulties in developing effective means to diagnose and treat long COVID (PASC) cases. A primary hardship entails the lack of standardized diagnostic testing, largely due to the wide spectrum of symptoms and severity that long COVID patients experience.

Fortunately, studies like this one are taking essential steps to overcome these obstacles. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between long COVID patients and those who contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus without developing long-term health effects.

Developing a Framework for Long COVID Diagnosis

Why do some who contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus develop lasting health effects while others do not? In May 2023, the National Institutes of Health’s Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) Initiative set out to answer this question by launching a prospective longitudinal cohort study.

Given that over 658 million people around the world have contracted COVID-19 infections, the need for research and answers about long COVID is as dire as ever.

“Short- and long-term effects of PASC have substantial impacts on health-related quality of life, earnings, and health care costs,” the study reads. “Most existing [long COVID] studies have focused on individual symptom frequency and have generated widely divergent estimates of prevalence.”

The study stood apart from others by incorporating PASC-specific self-reported symptoms. This was accomplished by developing standardized questionnaires with input from patient representatives. Rather than relying on predefined clinical symptoms, this study focused on proposing a definition of PASC as a new condition.

A data-driven scoring framework was implemented to classify long COVID as a new condition, allowing researchers to develop a specific algorithm that allows for a more effective diagnosis and definition of long COVID. The algorithm was unique in its inclusion of biological features in addition to symptoms.

“This symptom-based PASC definition represents a first step for identifying PASC cases and serves as a launching point for further investigations,” the study concludes. “Future analyses must consider the relationships among age, sex, race and ethnicity, social determinants of health, vaccination status after the index date, comorbidities, and pregnancy status during infection on the risk of PASC and the distribution of PASC subgroups.”

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