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Long COVID–induced activity limitations persist



Approximately one-quarter of adults who experience long COVID report activity limitations that do not change over time, based on data from national sample of nonhospitalized individuals.

Symptoms of long COVID, an ongoing medical condition that occurs in the wake of COVID-19 infection, include respiratory, neurologic, cardiovascular, or other complications that may last for weeks, months, or years after infection.

Current estimates of the incidence of long COVID in the United States range from 7.5% to 41%, according to Nicole D. Ford, PhD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues. Long COVID has shown a significant effect on patients’ quality of life, functional status, and ability to work, but the impact on activity limitation in particular has not been examined, the researchers said.

In a study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the researchers reviewed data from surveys conducted between June 1 and 13, 2022, and June 7 and 19, 2023. The data came from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (HPS), a cross-sectional national survey designed to measure the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on U.S. households. Surveys were conducted in 2-week cycles (2 weeks on, 2 weeks off). Questions about long COVID were added to the survey beginning on June 1, 2022, and questions about activity limitations from long COVID were added on Sept. 14, 2022, including questions about participants’ abilities to perform daily activities before and after COVID-19 infection.

Overall, the prevalence of long COVID decreased from 7.5% to 6.0% in U.S. adults aged 18 years and older during the study period. However, when stratified by age group, the decline was significant only in adults older than 60 years, and 1 in 10 adults with a history of COVID-19 reported long COVID at the end of the study period.

Among respondents with long COVID, 26.4% of respondents for time period of June 7-19, 2023, reported significant activity limitations, which remained unchanged over time, with no clear pattern in activity limitations across age groups, the researchers said.

Prevalence of long COVID was highest for individuals in middle adulthood (aged 30-39 years, 40-49 years, and 50-59 years) and lowest for younger adults (18-29 years) and older adults (aged 60 years and older). The prevalence of long COVID decreased by 1.16% per survey cycle between the June 1-13 and Jan. 4-16 cycles, but then remained stable, with a decrease of 0.01% per cycle between June 1-13, 2022, and Jan. 4-16, 2023.

Previous studies have shown that activity limitations resulting from long COVID can significantly affect quality of life and functional status, as well as the ability to work or care for others. A recent study in the United Kingdom showed that quality of life scores among long COVID patients were similar to those of individuals with advanced cancer, and more than half of the long COVID patients reported moderately severe functional impairment. “The larger economic and societal impact of long COVID could be far-reaching if working-age adults are unable to maintain employment or care for children or aging parents,” the researchers said.

The current study findings were limited by several factors including potential coverage bias in the survey sample, the relatively low survey response rate, and the inability to collect data on duration of symptoms, COVID-19 vaccination status, treatment during acute infection, and time since COVID-19 illness; any of these factors could affect the reported prevalence of long COVID, the researchers noted.

However, the results suggest the need for continued attention to COVID-19 prevention efforts, including not only staying current with recommended COVID-19 vaccination, but also planning for symptom management and health care service needs of long COVID patients, they concluded.


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