Mortality rates from severe COVID infection have decreased at this point in the pandemic, but there is still much concern about Covid lasting too long. And if you look forward to the recent headlines, you might assume that the prolonged period of Covid must be of great concern to the average person today.
a New study out In the prestigious journal Nature Medicine, it appears at first glance to support this view. The headlines about it say it shows it The long coronavirus is worseat the population level, from heart disease or cancer, and it can continue to cause Cases two years after the initial infection.
Long covid, which WHO specifies Unexplained symptoms that remain worrisome more than three months after the initial infection are a public health concern. And yes, there is a possibility that you could contract the coronavirus and still have symptoms. But what this study says about the long-term risk of contracting coronavirus for most people is actually reassuring.
Here’s one way to summarize what the study shows: It compared people who had a history of COVID-19 in 2020 with a control group, who had never been diagnosed with the disease, and found years later that people who had COVID-19 were Still At increased risk for a range of issues. Specifically, the researchers found that the risk of 25 out of 80 severe cases was elevated even in people who were not hospitalized after their initial infection with COVID-19 compared to an uninfected control group. And people who were admitted to the hospital saw a higher risk.
There are some important things to keep in mind. First, this paper looked at what is known as the Veterans Health Administration group in the United States. This is a group of generally older, mostly male patients receiving VHA care who, on the whole, are much less healthy than the average person. It is very difficult to generalize any problems seen in this group to the rest of the population. The paper also looked at people who became infected before vaccines were widely available.
Furthermore, to be included in the study, the participants had to seek medical help, which means that any analysis of this data would be biased. The hospitalization rate for COVID-19 It was much higher than you would see in the general population. By definition, people who had mild infections and did not need help from the healthcare system were less likely to be included in this group. This means that research estimates of post-infection issues are likely to be exaggerated. (On the other hand, the authors did not consider potential unreported infections in the control group, which means that some people in this group may have also experienced prolonged COVID symptoms.)
So what does the study actually show? It appears that there is a high risk of long-term problems for people who are hospitalized with COVID-19. This is quite expected. If you get sick enough of any disease to require hospitalization, some long-term problem is almost certain. get very sick Bad for your health.
For people participating in the study who were not hospitalized for their initial infection, the situation was very different. There was a significant increase in the risk of problems such as heart attacks and susceptibility to other respiratory diseases that occurred in the first three months after infection. But then, the long-standing problems associated with COVID-19 quickly receded. Two years after infection, people with COVID-19 who were not hospitalized had levels of various illnesses that were almost indistinguishable from control.
To put the risk of long-term Covid in context, let’s look at some examples of these risks from the non-hospitalized group. (Technical note: The authors used a measure called disability-adjusted life years, but for simplicity, I’ve converted that back to absolute numbers.) Between 18 and 24 months after injury, about 18 out of every 10,000 people in the control group developed advanced diabetes. In the COVID-19 group, that number was 20 per 10,000 people. For fatigue, which is one of the most common problems associated with long-term COVID-19, the numbers were 26 per 10,000 in the control group versus 31 per 10,000 in the COVID-19 arm.
This study measured disease by looking at how many people received diagnostic codes — and to get a diagnostic code, you have to go to a doctor and get a diagnosis, which people don’t always do. This means that these numbers are likely to be an underestimation of the true numbers for these diseases in this group. At the same time, it is likely to be higher compared to the real numbers for the rest of the population due to the nature of the people included in the study.
But these numbers still give some context regarding the rates of these problems in people with COVID-19. At a population level, a prolonged coronavirus presents a high risk that could be meaningful: having two more cases of diabetes per 10,000 people over 60 would be quite a number of people nationally. But on an individual level, it’s far less worrisome. The chance that you will be one – perhaps – of five people out of several thousand who experience lingering fatigue two years after contracting COVID-19 is extremely low. It is certainly not as worrisome as the health issues posed by heart disease or cancer.
In the end, this study does not contradict the broader picture of the long-running coronavirus that is emerging. If you look at the general population rates of people who have reported long-term problems related to COVID-19, they are was in decline For some time. This is likely due to previous vaccination and infection. Immunity causes future infections Much less dangerousAnd at this point, the vast majority of the world has multiple layers of immunity, thanks in particular to our excellent coronavirus vaccines.
None of this is to say that the long-running coronavirus isn’t a bad problem for many people. Personally, I know several people who suffer greatly after years of injury. are still there Tens of thousands of people They are likely to be disabled due to the coronavirus. For some of these people, these issues may be lifelong.
The long coronavirus is a serious problem, and we spend a great deal of effort looking for it. Nevertheless, I find the new evidence very reassuring. As the severity of COVID-19 decreases due to ever-increasing levels of immunity, so does the risk of disease, including long-term COVID. And for people with a relatively mild initial infection — which is, at this point, the vast majority of those who get sick, especially if they’ve recently had a booster shot — the risk is generally very small. Although the coronavirus (COVID-19) will remain a public health problem for years to come, perhaps forever, it is no longer an everyday fear for many. the people.