13.9% of adults who test positive for COVID-19 experience long COVID, study finds
By Christopher Cheney
A new research article gauges the prevalence of long COVID symptoms among U.S. adults and examines the effectiveness of vaccination for averting long COVID.
The World Health Organization has defined long COVID as a syndrome that occurs three months after a COVID-19 infection, with symptoms that last for at least two months. Long COVID symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, cardiac issues, and fatigue.
The new research article, which was published by JAMA Network Open, features survey data collected from more than 16,000 adults who experienced a test-confirmed COVID-19 illness. The study includes several key data points:
- Among the 16,091 survey respondents, 2,359 people (14.7%) reported long COVID symptoms. When this data was reweighted for national sociodemographic distributions, these long COVID patients represented 13.9% of patients who had tested positive for COVID-19.
- Completion of the primary series of COVID vaccination before acute COVID-19 illness was associated with a lower risk of long COVID (odds ratio 0.72).
- Older age per decade above 40 years was associated with higher risk of persistence of long COVID (adjusted odds ratio 1.15).
- Female gender was associated with higher risk of persistence of long COVID (adjusted odds ratio 1.91).
- People with a graduate education versus high school or less were associated with a lower risk of persistence of long COVID (adjusted odds ratio 0.67).
- People who lived in urban versus rural areas were associated with a lower risk of persistence of long COVID (adjusted odds ratio 0.74).
- Among long COVID patients, fatigue was the most common symptom (52.2% of patients), followed by loss of smell (43.7%), brain fog (40.4%), and shortness of breath (39.7%).
“This study suggests that long COVID is prevalent and associated with female gender and older age, while risk may be diminished by completion of primary vaccination series prior to infection,” the study’s co-authors wrote.
The data estimates the prevalence of long COVID among adults who test positive for COVID-19, they wrote. “In this cross-sectional study of a cohort of 16,091 adults surveyed between February 2021 and July 2022 in all 50 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia, we estimated that 14.7% of those who reported a positive COVID-19 test result more than 2 months previously continued to describe symptoms that they associated with acute infection, or 13.9% after reweighting to reflect the U.S. adult population.”
Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders.