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Long COVID: 30 percent of people contracting the virus get it

Not much is known about why it happens.

Long COVID: 30 percent of people contracting the virus get it
Monoclonal antibodies fighting against COVID cells libre de droit/iStock

After studying over 1,000 patients infected with COVID-19, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, (UCLA) found that about 30 percent develop Post Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC), or Long COVID, as it is more commonly known. 

As the world tries to return to normalcy after waves of COVID infections, the looming question remains over the incidence of 'Long COVID' and the reasons behind it. In its assessment of Long COVID last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that as many as 20 percent of infected individuals face this condition. Why some individuals are affected by the condition, while most recover, is something that is still being researched. 

What are the symptoms of Long COVID?

More than 200 symptoms have been associated with Long COVID. However, fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction, muscle aches, depression, chest pain, and a persistent cough are some of the defining symptoms that the WHO uses to diagnose the condition. 

Research conducted so far has not been able to find any correlation between the age of the individuals or the severity of the infection with this condition. While vaccines have been successful in preventing severe COVID, their impact on preventing Long COVID is still being studied, the WHO said on its page

What the UCLA study is saying

Researchers at UCLA studied 1,038 individuals who were infected with COVID and registered at the Ambulatory Program between April 2020 and February 2021. While some had to be hospitalized, others were treated as outpatients. 

The researchers diagnosed the condition in 309 individuals who persistently reported symptoms 60-90 days post-infection or hospitalization. While fatigue and shortness of breath were the most reported symptoms in individuals who were hospitalized, outpatients reported the loss of sense of smell the most, the study found. 

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From the small sample size analyzed, the researchers found that individuals with a history of hospitalization, diabetes, and a higher body mass index (BMI) were more likely to get Long COVID. In what came across as a surprise to researchers, ethnicity, older age, and socioeconomic status, three factors linked to COVID-19 severity and higher risk of death, were not found to have a link with the condition. 

Interestingly, individuals who had undergone an organ transplant or were covered by Medicaid, as compared with commercial health insurance, were less likely to develop Long COVID. 

The researchers acknowledged the reporting of symptoms from patients was highly subjective and the limited information on the patients' pre-existing conditions were major weaknesses of the study. However, the researchers also noted this called for better tools to diagnose the condition more accurately.

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The findings were published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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