As many of you know, COVID-19 has caused over 1.1 million deaths in the USA, with nearly seven million deaths worldwide. But that’s not the full story. A new study from the CDC shows that a small but growing number of Americans are surviving acute infections from COVID-19 only to die months later due to the lingering health problems caused by long COVID.
Unfortunately, this new CDC analysis, as reported by Medscape, shows that long COVID is becoming a more significant risk factor for COVID-19 deaths.
What is long COVID?
Post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (also called long-haul COVID or simply, long COVID) are a set of conditions, including, but not limited to, neuropsychiatric, digestive, pulmonary, cardiovascular, and diabetes. These conditions persist long after the SARS-CoV-2 infection has passed. There is no test to diagnose long COVID conditions, and some individuals may have a wide variety of symptoms that could result from prior health conditions but are exacerbated by COVID. This can make it difficult for healthcare providers to recognize post-COVID conditions.
Worse yet, since the symptoms are so difficult to explain, they are often very difficult to manage. There is no known “cure” for long COVID, so healthcare professionals have to focus on treating the symptoms, not a favorite technique of most science-based physicians.
Anti-vaxxers love to point out that the vast majority of people survive a COVID-19 infection (while ignoring the large number, over 1 million in the USA alone, that die). However, they fail to consider long-COVID, which may be a more important consideration than the initial COVID-19 infection itself.
By September 2023, the CDC estimated that 7% of all American adults had experienced long COVID at some point.
Let me make this point again — COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of serious complications of the disease including developing long COVID-19.
CDC report on long COVID-19 deaths
A CDC study published in December 2022 found that there were over 3500 deaths in the USA as a result of long COVID-19 between January 2020 (near the start of the pandemic, four long years ago) and June 2022. The CDC told Medscape that they have a preliminary tally of 1491 long COVID deaths in 2023.
This new report on deaths from long COVID indicates that it remains a significant public health issue, and it will probably grow in the years ahead even after the pandemic is no longer a global public health concern.
The CDC analysis of death certificates also found:
- COVID-19 was the third leading cause of American deaths in 2020 and 2021 (behind heart disease and cancer), and the fourth leading cause of death in the United States in 2022 (behind heart disease, cancer, and accidents).
- Nearly 1% of the more than one million deaths related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic have been attributed to long COVID.
- The proportion of COVID-related deaths from long COVID peaked in June 2021 at 1.2% and again in April 2022 at 3.8%, according to the CDC. Both of these peaks coincided with periods of declining fatalities from acute infections.
- Half of long COVID fatalities from July 2021 to June 2022 occurred in people aged 65 years and older, and another 23% were recorded among people aged 50-64 years old.
Although the numbers of deaths attributed to long COVID may appear to be small, especially compared to the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 itself, it has become a significant public health issue because so many people have the condition.
As the mortality from COVID-19 drops, the percentage that is related to long COVID-19 will increase. And since we have not developed the medical strategies to effectively treat long COVID, the risk of death is going to increase.
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