Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers are still learning about the effects of the virus, including how many people suffer from “long COVID” – When symptoms of the disease linger long past infection.
New University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) research finds that 30% of people treated for COVID-19 developed Post Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC), most commonly known as “long COVID.”
According to the study, which was recently published in Springer, patients with a history of hospitalization, diabetes, and higher body mass index were most likely to develop the condition, while those covered by Medicaid, as opposed to commercial health insurance, or had undergone an organ transplant were less likely to acquire it.
Surprisingly, demographics that are linked with severe illness and greater risk of death from COVID-19, such as ethnicity, older age and socioeconomic status, were not associated with long COVID syndrome.
The UCLA researchers studied 1,038 people who were enrolled in the UCLA COVID Ambulatory Program between April 2020 and February 2021. Of those, 309 people were living with long COVID. In hospitalized patients, the most persistent symptoms were fatigue and shortness of breath (31% and 15%, respectively). Loss of sense of smell (16%) was the most reported symptom in outpatients.
“This study illustrates the need to follow diverse patient populations longitudinally to understand the Long COVID disease trajectory and evaluate how individual factors such as pre-existing co-morbidities, sociodemographic factors, vaccination status and virus variant type affect type and persistence of Long COVID symptoms,” said Dr. Sun Yoo, health sciences assistant clinical professor at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and medical director of the Extensivist Program. “Studying outcomes in a single health system can minimize variation in quality of medical care. Our study also raises questions such as: Why were patients with commercial insurance twice as likely to develop Long COVID than patients insured through Medicaid? Because persistent symptoms can be subjective in nature, we need better tools to accurately diagnose Long COVID and to differentiate it from exacerbations of other emerging or chronic conditions. Finally, we need to ensure equitable access to outpatient Long COVID care.”