A new study by The Washington Post and research partners has found that Americans infected with the omicron variant of the coronavirus are less likely to experience symptoms typical of long covid than those who had covid-19 earlier in the pandemic. The study, which analyzed nearly 5 million U.S. patients who had covid, shows that 1 in 16 people with omicron received medical care for symptoms associated with long covid within several months of being infected. Patients exposed to the virus during the first wave of the pandemic were found to be most prone to develop long covid, with 1 in 12 experiencing persistent symptoms. As the pandemic enters its fourth year, the precise nature of long covid and remedies for it remain largely unknown, making it a troubling ripple effect from the country’s worst public health crisis in a century.
Important Details about Long-covid symptoms are less common now than earlier in the pandemic –
– Americans infected with omicron are less likely to develop long covid symptoms compared to earlier pandemic cases.
– The largest ever study of 5 million US patients showed 1 in 16 people with omicron received medical care for long covid symptoms within months of being infected.
– Patients exposed to covid during the first wave of the pandemic were most prone to develop long covid, with 1 in 12 suffering from persistent symptoms.
– Patients with underlying medical conditions are twice as likely to seek care for long covid symptoms than healthy people.
– Obese patients were three times as likely to report long covid symptoms than those without prior health conditions.
– The precise nature and remedy for long covid remain unknown, with its causes still based on theories.
– Long covid symptoms differ among patients and persist far longer than post-viral syndrome symptoms.
– An emerging body of studies is trying to determine who is most vulnerable to the symptoms and how to define the syndrome.
March 18, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. EDT: Long Covid Symptoms Less Likely After Omicron
The COVID-19 pandemic has raged on for over two years now, with new variants and waves affecting different parts of the world at different times. One of the most troubling aspects of the virus has been the phenomenon known as long Covid – in which patients who have recovered from COVID-19 continue to experience a range of symptoms that can last for months or even years.
Now, a new study based on the largest-ever analysis of COVID-19 patients in the US has found that those infected with the Omicron variant are less likely to experience the symptoms typically associated with long Covid, compared to patients infected earlier in the pandemic. This analysis was conducted through a collaboration between The Washington Post and research partners, studying nearly 5 million US patients who had COVID-19.
The analysis found that 1 in 16 people with Omicron received medical care for symptoms associated with long Covid within several months of being infected, while patients exposed to the coronavirus during the first wave of the pandemic were most prone to developing long Covid, with 1 in 12 suffering persistent symptoms. These findings mirror what leading doctors who treat long Covid – and some scientists who study it – have noticed as the pandemic evolves.
Yet the reasons for this shifting rate are still largely conjecture. “Long Covid is a complicated beast,” says Ziyad Al-Aly, director of the Clinical Epidemiology Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and a major researcher into the disease.
The study also found that patients with certain underlying medical conditions – such as obesity, lung diseases, or kidney disorders – were twice as likely as previously healthy people to seek care for symptoms associated with long Covid. Furthermore, obese patients were roughly three times as likely to report long Covid symptoms compared to those without any previous medical conditions.
These findings highlight the ripple effects of COVID-19’s worst public health crisis in a century. While rapid progress has been made in the development of vaccines and treatments, the precise nature of long Covid and the remedies for it remain largely unknown. Its causes have not advanced beyond theories, and its symptoms differ among patients, making it hard at times to differentiate what is caused by a COVID-19 infection and what is incidental.
The study with The Post’s partners, based on anonymous medical records of COVID-19 patients across the country, adds to the coalescing portrait of who is most vulnerable to the wide constellation of symptoms that typify Long Covid. An emerging body of studies in the United States and elsewhere has been trying to figure out who is most vulnerable to these symptoms. However, the findings vary substantially because of different research methods, the small cohort of patients on which many studies are based, and researchers’ lack of consensus over how the syndrome should be defined.
For patients like Noemi Chiriac, long Covid is an ongoing nightmare. Chiriac has been dealing with lingering symptoms of the virus since late 2020, including the loss of her senses of taste and smell. At 45 years old, Chiriac has not regained her full capacity for miles-long walks, often becoming short of breath after even the slightest exertion. She has also experienced severe brain fog, which has impacted her ability to recall names and faces – making it nearly impossible for her to keep up with her professional life.
“I could see their faces. I know exactly who they are, but I could not remember,” says Chiriac of her inability to answer interview questions asked of her after being chosen to compete for more-senior management jobs as part of a “talent pool” selection process at her aerospace and defense company. Brain fog, lingering from her first round of Covid seven months prior, got in the way of her recalling their names. As a result, she was taken out of the running for these talent pool jobs.
These stories highlight the devastating impact that COVID-19 can have long after a patient has seemingly recovered. For researchers, it provides a call to action – to continue studying the phenomenon of long Covid and to try to identify reliable treatments that can help patients reclaim their pre-pandemic lives. However, as the pandemic continues into its fourth year, the precise nature of this disease remains a black box – and the road ahead remains uncertain.