US study finds 1 in 10 get long COVID after omicron, starts identifying key symptoms
WASHINGTON- About 10% of people appear to have long-COVID after omicron infection, a lower estimate than when the pandemic began, according to a study of nearly 10,000 Americans designed to help elucidate the mystery illness.
Initial results from the National Institutes of Health study highlight a dozen symptoms that are most distinct from long-COVID, the collective term for the sometimes debilitating health problems that can linger for months or years after even a mild case of COVID-19.
Millions of people around the world have long suffered from COVID, with dozens of very different symptoms, including fatigue and brain fog. Scientists still don’t know what causes it, why it only affects some people, how to treat it — or how best to diagnose it. A better definition of the condition is crucial for research to get these answers.
“Sometimes I hear people say, ‘Oh, everyone’s a little tired,'” said Dr. Leora Horwitz of NYU Langone Health, one of the study authors. “No, there’s something different about people who have long had COVID, and that’s important to know.”
The new study, published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, includes more than 8,600 adults who had contracted COVID-19 at various times during the pandemic and compared them to another 1,100 who were uninfected.
It is estimated that about one in three of the COVID-19 patients has suffered from long-term COVID illness. This compares to NIH study participants who reported having the disease before the Omicron variant spread to the US in December 2021. That’s also when the study opened, and researchers noted that people who had had COVID symptoms for a long time might be more likely to participate in the study.
But about 2,230 patients had their first coronavirus infection after the study began, allowing them to report symptoms in real time — and only about 10% had long-term symptoms after six months.
Previous research suggests that the risk of long-term COVID-19 has decreased since Omicron appeared; its descendants are still spreading.
The bigger question is how to recognize and help those who have long been ill with COVID.
The new study focused on a dozen symptoms that could help define Long-COVID: fatigue; brain fog; Dizziness; gastrointestinal symptoms; palpitations; sexual problems; loss of smell or taste; Thirst; chronic cough; chest pain; Worsening of symptoms after activity and abnormal movements.
Researchers assigned points to symptoms to set a threshold that could eventually help ensure similar patients are enrolled in studies of possible long-term COVID treatments, as part of the NIH study or elsewhere to match apples to apples compare.
Horwitz emphasized that physicians should not use this list to diagnose a person with Long-COVID – it is merely a potential research tool. Patients may have one or more of these symptoms — or other symptoms not on the list — and still suffer from the long-term effects of coronavirus.
Everyone is doing studies on Long-COVID, but “we don’t even know what that means,” Horwitz said.
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