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Key Takeaways

  • An estimated one-third of people who have COVID-19 could wind up with long-term COVID symptoms, a new study says
  • Nearly half of Americans have had COVID-19, and 1 in 7 have gone on to suffer long COVID
  • Symptoms associated with long COVID include brain fog, anxiety, depression and mobility problems

As many as 1 in 3 people who fall ill with COVID-19 will develop long COVID, with symptoms that can persist for months or years, a new study estimates.

Nearly half of participants (47%) in a large-scale U.S. Census Bureau survey said they had been infected with COVID-19 by the end of 2022, the data showed.

Further, 1 in 7 (14%) Americans said they had developed long COVID, with 7% saying their symptoms still persisted at the time they were surveyed, according to the researchers’ review of the federal data.

Given that, the findings suggest that 1 in 3 people who contract COVID-19 may end up with long COVID symptoms, the investigators concluded.

“Here, we have found that long COVID continues to affect millions of people in the U.S., with some groups much more affected than others,” said co-researcher Alex Bryson, a professor with the University College London’s Social Research Institute.

“Those who have ever had long COVID remain more likely to report low mood, challenges in carrying out daily tasks, and challenges with memory, concentration and understanding, compared to people who have never had long COVID,” he added in a university news release.

For the study, the researchers reviewed data from more than 460,000 people who responded to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey between June and December of 2022. Respondents were asked if they’d ever had COVID-19 or long COVID.

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Long COVID is generally described as symptoms from COVID-19 that can linger for weeks, months and even years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In line with the World Health Organization’s definition of long COVID, the study authors defined long COVID as continued or new symptoms at least three months after initial infection.

The researchers found that people who had ever had long COVID were more likely to have mood-related symptoms like anxiety, depression, worry or a lack of interest in things.

Those with long COVID also reported problems with memory or concentration, difficulty understanding and being understood, physical mobility problems, and problems dressing and bathing, according to the census data.

However, the risk of anxiety and low mood appeared to be lower for those who had been vaccinated against COVID-19, the researchers found.

Long COVID was more common in women than men, and rates were higher among white people, middle-aged people, and people with lower income or educational levels.

West Virginia had the most people reporting long COVID (18% of the population), and Hawaii the least (11%), according to the report.

Long COVID was much more common among people who had severe symptoms during their initial infection.

About 31% of people who reported currently having long COVID said they initially had severe symptoms, compared to only 7% of people who had COVID-19 without developing long COVID.

Further research is needed to better understand how long COVID causes its various potential symptoms, and to understand the potential impacts of vaccination on the risk of long COVID, the researchers concluded.

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The new study was published online Nov. 2 in PLOS ONE.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about long COVID.

SOURCE: University College London, news release, Nov. 2, 2023

What This Means For You

People who catch COVID-19 may have a 1-in-3 chance of developing long-term symptoms from their initial infection.