The dreaded side effect rears its ugly head in the latest COVID variant

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Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Around the world, rates of COVID deaths and hospitalizations continue to drop. But our successful mitigation of the worst results of the 33-month pandemic belies a growing crisis.

More people are surviving COVID and staying out of hospital, but more people are too living with long-term symptoms of COVID. Fatigue. Heart problems. Stomach problems. Lung problems. Confusion. Symptoms that can last for months, even a year or more after the infection goes away.

According to a new study from the City University of New York, up to 21% of Americans who caught the SARS-CoV-2 virus this summer ended up suffering from long COVID beginning four weeks after infection.

That’s up from the 19% figures reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June.

Compare these numbers to recent rates of COVID deaths and hospitalizations in the United States of 3% and 0.3%, respectively. Long COVID is by far the most likely serious outcome of any new coronavirus infection. And maybe become more likely.

This might be the only way to beat COVID for good

The CUNY study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, focused on American adults, but the findings have implications for the whole world. Overall, the long-term symptoms are partially replace Deaths from covid. After all, more COVID survivors mean more people at risk for long-term symptoms. And the long COVID is cumulative – people are getting sick and stay sick for a while.

“Despite an increased level of protection against long COVID through vaccination, the total number of people with long COVID in the United States may be increasing,” said epidemiologist Denis Nash, lead author of the study. CUNY at the Daily Beast. In other words, every day more people to catch long COVID than retrieve from the long COVID.

But understanding COVID for a long time, not to mention to prevent it is not a priority in the global epidemiological establishment. That has to change, Nash said. “I think it’s high time to focus on the long COVID in addition to preventing hospitalizations and deaths.”

In recent weeks, authorities have recorded about half a million new COVID cases per day, worldwide. That’s not as low as the 400,000 new cases per day that health agencies tallied during the biggest drop in case rates in February 2021. But it’s close.

What is really remarkable, however, is how few of these half-million-a-day COVID infections are fatal. Lately, just 1,700 people are dying each day, a fifth of the number of daily deaths in February last year, when the number of new infections each day was only slightly higher.

Hospitalizations for severe COVID cases are also down. Global statistics are not available, but in the United States, hospitalizations for COVID have fallen from 15,000 a day 19 months ago to just 3,700 a day now.

It is not difficult to explain the decrease in mortality and hospitalization rates. Worldwide, about two-thirds of adults are at least partially vaccinated. Billions of people also have antibodies from past infections they survived. Each antibody helps mitigate the worst outcomes.

But the incidence of long COVID appears to be increasing. The high rate of reinfection could be one reason. Currently, one in six people catches the virus more than once. Repeated infections come with a high risk of a whole range of problems that, not coincidentally, correspond to the symptoms of a long COVID, concluded a team of scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine and from the US Veterans Administration’s Saint Louis Health Care System in a study this summer. The more reinfections, the longer the COVID.

Looking at the July numbers, Nash’s team concluded that 7% of all American adults, or more than 18 million people, had long COVID at the time. If the same rate applies worldwide – and there’s no reason to believe it doesn’t – the global COVID caseload for a long time could have topped 560 million this summer.

That number is likely much higher now, given the summer peak in infections resulting from BA.5 – one million new cases globally per day in July.

One thing that surprised Nash and his teammates is that the risk of long COVID is not uniform across the population. Young people and women are more likely to catch long COVID, the CUNY team found. Nash said the higher vaccination rate among the elderly and elderly could explain the former. But the latter remains a mystery. “Further study of these groups may provide clues to risk factors,” he said.

Why there is a gender gap in long-term COVID risk is just an unanswered question that scientists and health officials could try to answer. They could also develop new vaccination strategies and public health messages specifically for long COVIDs.

But overall, they don’t do much to reduce the risk of long-term symptoms, Nash said. Nearly three years into the COVID pandemic, authorities are still heavily focused on preventing hospitalizations and deaths — and only prevent hospitalizations and deaths.

“Focusing exclusively on these findings could arguably make the long COVID situation worse,” Nash explained, “since there is a significant amount of long COVID among people who had only mild or less severe SARS infections. -CoV-2″.

Yet another curveball in the COVID mutation nightmare

In this sense, the long COVID is a silent crisis. A disease that potentially affects more than half a billion people, but which is not a major focus of research or public health policy. “Saving lives is certainly helpful, but quality of life is also very important – and that can be lacking for people who have long COVID,” Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida, told The Daily Beast. .

We are not powerless to prevent the long COVID, of course. The same tools that can prevent hospitalization and death from COVID can too reduce the likelihood of long-term symptoms, while reducing the risk of any COVID, short or long. To get vaccinated. Keep track of your boosters. Hide in crowded indoor spaces.

But given the evolutionary trend of SARS-CoV-2, long COVID could become a growing problem, even among the most cautious people, and one requiring specific solutions. The virus is still mutating. And each new variant or subvariant tended to be more contagious than the last, meaning more and more breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated and boosted people.

If you are currently up to date on your bites, the chances of COVID killing you or sending you to the hospital are low. But the chances of it making you sick, potentially for a very long time, are significant and apparently increasing.

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