More than 3,500 Americans have died with ‘long Covid’, a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found.
Deaths have been overwhelmingly among people over 85 years old and those with chronic underlying health conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
The analysts looked at fatalities during the 30 months of the pandemic up to June 2022.
Experts suggest higher levels of inflammation in long Covid patients exacerbate underlying conditions, which can disrupt the functioning of organs leading to a higher risk of death.
Long Covid is a catch-all umbrella term for symptoms that persist for months after clearing the initial infection. Experts are split over the impact it could have on society, with some describing it as a ‘silent epidemic’ while others suggest that its scale may have been overblown.
The above shows deaths involving long Covid (green bars) and deaths from Covid (blue line). It shows that long Covid fatalities rose shortly after Covid fatalities
The CDC analysis looked at nationwide death certificates from January 2020 to June 2022 filed to the National Vital Statistics System.
Certificates which mentioned ‘long COVID’, ‘long haul COVID’, ‘chronic COVID’ or ‘post COVID syndrome’ were included.
They listed long Covid as either an underlying — or main cause — of death, or a contributing factor — involved in fatality but not the main cause.
A total of 3,544 deaths were recorded where long Covid was mentioned as a contributing factor.
Although deaths linked to the condition peaked shortly after a spike in Covid deaths, they are now trending downwards alongside Covid fatalities.
Breaking the data down by age, showed over-85s were most at risk of death from long Covid.
The above shows American Indian or Alaskan Natives were most likely to have long Covid listed as a contributing factor on their death certificates (green bar). This group was also most at risk from the condition
The above shows that over-85s were at a much higher risk of having long Covid on their death certificates than those in younger age groups
This group had a fatality rate of 125.5 per 100,000 people in the group, while women had a rate of 112.4. For comparison, people aged 50 to 64, had a rate of 20.3 for men and 12 for women. Rates were even lower in younger age groups.
Of the 2,490 long Covid deaths with data available, 1,417 — or 57 percent — were among over 75s.
Writing in the report Dr Farida Ahmad, a health scientist at the CDC, and other report authors suggested people could die from long Covid because of ‘exacerbation of existing conditions’.
Previous studies have suggested high inflammation levels in sufferers could exacerbate underlying conditions — such as heart problems — raising the risk of death.
But yesterday scientists warned the report should be taken with a pinch of salt, saying it was difficult to draw conclusions from the study without more data.
Dr Benjamin Abramoff, the director of post-Covid assessment and recovery at Penn Medicine, told the Washington Post that more detail was needed on the patients’ medical histories and how severe their Covid infection was.
‘A death at weeks following severe infection leading to Covid pneumonia and hospitalization paints a different picture than deaths in non-hospitalized patients months following infection,’ he said.
Dr Francesca Beaudoin, head of Brown University’s long Covid initiative, warned that death certificate data was ‘fraught with uncertainty and ambiguity’.
There has only been a code for long Covid deaths since October 2021, she warned.
But many coroners are likely unaware that long Covid can be listed as a cause of death, or even know which deaths would fall into the category.
Dr Ahmad told ABC news: ‘This is the first time that we’ve used death certificate data from the National Statistics System to identify deaths with long Covid.
‘Because this is a new analysis and the first time we’re looking at long Covid in death certificates, I think a lot of the aspects of the report stand out as unique.’
The US Government estimates that 23million Americans have long Covid, the equivalent of seven percent of the US population.
The most common symptoms are fatigue, difficulty breathing, headaches, brain fog, joint and muscle pain and a continued loss of taste and smell.
What is long Covid?
Long Covid is an informal term used to describe ongoing symptoms following a Covid infection that go on longer than four weeks, according to the ONS.
A dizzying array of symptoms have been attributed to long Covid, including:
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- problems with memory and concentration (‘brain fog’)
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- heart palpitations
- pins and needles
- joint pain
- depression and anxiety
- tinnitus, earaches
- feeling sick, diarrhea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
There is no cure for the condition, though treatments can ease symptoms.
Nearly one in 13 Americans are thought to have the condition, while in the UK one in every 32 people are said to be suffering from the condition.