Infectious Disease

Prevalence of long COVID decreases but many report persistent symptoms

August 10, 2023

3 min read

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The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

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Key takeaways

  • The prevalence of long COVID among people diagnosed with COVID-19 declined over 12 months.
  • Persistent long COVID may be more likely in patients who had more acute COVID-19.

The prevalence of long COVID has declined in the United States among the general population and people with a previously documented case of COVID-19, although many adults still report persistent symptoms, a pair of studies found.

Since January 2023, the prevalence of long COVID has stabilized, with roughly one in 10 adults with previous COVID-19 experiencing some form of the condition, researchers reported in one study published Thursday in MMWR.

IDN0823Ford_Graphic_01_WEB

A second study published in MMWR found that the prevalence of any symptom reported by people who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 decreased by nearly half in a 3-month follow-up period, but that roughly two in five reported persistent symptoms 12 months after diagnosis.

“Long COVID is a condition encompassing a wide range of health problems that emerge, persist or return following COVID-19,” Nicole D. Ford, PhD, senior health scientist at the CDC, and colleagues wrote.

Long COVID does not have a one-size-fits-all definition, experts have said. Patients can experience a varying set of symptoms and may be at an increased risk if their acute infection was more severe.

Symptoms include brain fog and severe fatigue. Researchers earlier this year described a symptom-based scoring system that may help physicians diagnose long COVID.

“Limited ability to carry day-to-day activities because of long COVID symptoms can have a significant impact on quality of life, functional status and ability to work or provide care to others,” Ford and colleagues wrote.

“The larger economic and societal impact of long COVID could be far-reaching if working-age adults are unable to maintain employment or care for children or aging parents,” they added.

Ford and colleagues analyzed national data from the Household Pulse Survey collected during two 13-day periods in June 2022 and June 2023 to estimate the prevalence of long COVID among U.S. adults aged 18 or older and related activity limitations.

The data showed that long COVID decreased among the overall U.S. adult population — regardless of a previously documented COVID-19 case — from 7.5% to 6% between the two periods. The prevalence decreased from 18.9% to 11% among U.S. adults who reported a previous COVID-19 diagnosis.

The rate of decline was only statistically significant among people aged younger than 60 years.

Additionally, 26.4% of adults with long COVID reported “significant activity limitation,” which did not change over the course of the study.

In the second study, Juan Carlos Montoy, MD, PhD, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of California San Francisco, and colleagues analyzed data from the Innovative Support for Patients with SARS-CoV-2 Infections Registry (INSPIRE) on 1,296 adults at 3-month intervals for 12 months after their diagnosis.

They found that the prevalence of any COVID-19 symptom decreased during the first 3-month follow-up from 98.4% to 48.2% for people testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 and from 88.2% to 36.6% for those receiving a negative test.

Over the full 12-month study period, persistent symptoms decreased and there was approximately no difference between the groups in the number of patients reporting persistent symptoms at 12 months (18.3% vs. 16.1%).

“Many participants experienced new symptoms more than 6 months after the acute illness, suggesting that the prevalence of emerging symptoms in the months after acute COVID-like illness might be considerable,” Montoy and colleagues wrote.

The authors of both studies noted that understanding which specific patients, populations or viral levels are linked to long COVID requires more research.

“Awareness that symptoms might persist for up to 12 months, and that many symptoms might emerge or reemerge in the year after COVID-like illness can assist health care providers in understanding the clinical signs and symptoms associated with post-COVID-like conditions,” Montoy and colleagues wrote.

References:

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