TAMPA, Fla. — New research shows more people are being affected by long COVID.
“Long COVID is actually quite common,” said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, distinguished USF Health Professor.
“As high as one in four people suffer long-term symptoms after resolving their COVID-19 infections,” he added.
Long COVID is when you experience any new, returning, or ongoing problems for four weeks or more after a COVID-19 infection.
“This even happens to people who have had mild infections, initial mild symptoms. They will sometimes develop these long COVID symptoms after they recover,” said Unnasch.
The government estimates anywhere from 7.7 million people to 23 million people in the U.S. have developed long COVID.
“It’s not really clear how long these last. Something like 80% of them resolve in about a year, but there are other ones that have been dragging on since the initial start of the epidemic. People who have those are still having problems with all sorts of issues along the way,” said Unnasch.
Since the COVID-19 virus can affect any part of your body, doctors said people could have all kinds of long COVID symptoms. Some of the most common ones are chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and body aches.
“We have a lot of people who were athletes before and now can’t have such serious pulmonary symptoms they can’t even climb two or three flights of stairs,” said Unnasch.
According to a recent large-scale study out of the U.K., adults who’ve had a COVID-19 infection have a high risk of developing seizure disorders, brain fog, dementia, and other mental health conditions as a result of long COVID.
“Millions of people may end up suffering long-term consequences as a result of this infection,” said Unnasch.
There are also new data about how children are being impacted by long COVID. That same study showed that children have a higher risk of developing epilepsy following an infection.
A recent report from the CDC found kids who have long COVID are more at risk of getting serious lung, heart, kidney, and pancreatic problems.
“We thought originally that this was just going to be cold in kids and sniffles and that this wasn’t going to be a big deal, but there is quite a large increase in a large number of pretty serious long-term symptoms as a result of this in kids,” said Unnasch.
However, children seem to be less affected by long COVID than adults are. One study published last month estimates about 5-10% of children who’ve had a COVID-19 infection now have long COVID.
“But still 5% of all the kids in this country is a large number of kids, or worldwide even that may end up having long term problems associated with the COVID infection,” said Unnasch.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports nearly 14.3 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, and about 371,000 of these cases have been added in the past four weeks.
Experts predict long COVID numbers will climb as the virus continues to spread in our communities.
“This is going to be a long-term thing that we’re going to have to deal with as a public health problem for probably years or decades to come,” said Unnasch.
Doctors said the problem with long COVID is there’s no test for it and no specific drug to take to help symptoms.
“This is a really unfortunate virus, highly infectious.”
Scientists believe even milder variants are having the same long-term consequences.
“COVID with a vaccination and with the variants that we have now is much less of threat of killing you, but it may give you lingering symptoms that really decrease your quality of life for quite a long period of time,” said Unnasch.