– Increasing reports of people having “long COVID” have exposed the challenges in combating the pandemic.
Experts said prolonged COVID is likely to result in increasing pressure on social and medical resources, a shrinking workforce and a long-term economic downturn.
The post-COVID-19 condition, also known as long COVID, is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an illness that occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, with symptoms that last at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
The WHO estimated that 10 to 20 percent of COVID-19 patients are left with medium- and long-term symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive dysfunction, in addition to others that generally impact daily functioning. Women are more prone to the condition.
An estimated 17 million people in the WHO European region met WHO criteria for a new case of prolonged COVID with symptom duration of at least three months in 2020 and 2021, according to a recent study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the Washington University School of Medicine in the United States.
“IHME research shows that nearly 145 million people around the world in the first two years of the pandemic suffered from any of the three clusters of long-term COVID symptoms: fatigue with body aches and mood swings, cognitive problems, and difficulty breathe. Fast-forward to today and millions of people continue to suffer due to the persistent impact of COVID-19 on their health and livelihoods,” said Christopher Murray, Director of IHME.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that nearly one in five American adults who have had COVID-19 now have long-standing COVID.
A study published in the top-tier medical journal JAMA Network Open earlier this month looked at post-COVID-19 symptoms two years after a SARS-CoV-2 infection among hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients.
“I think a study like this from Spain means we may have been underestimating long-term COVID,” said Danny Altmann, an immunologist at Imperial College London. He emphasized the gaps in our knowledge about long COVID, saying that “what we’re not good at yet is solving the nuances of long COVID after different variants, like delta.”
LONG TERM IMPACT
As WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned, protracted COVID is “devastating” the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of people and wreaking havoc on health systems and economies. He urged countries to undertake “immediate” and “sustained” efforts to deal with the “seriousness” of the crisis.
In Britain, around 2.5 million people were economically inactive due to prolonged illness in the summer of 2022, compared with around 2 million people in the spring of 2019, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. earlier this month.
This was the highest rate of inactivity among long-term patients since records began in 1993, an ONS spokesman said. “Overall, it was falling, since just before the turn of the millennium, but it started rising again in 2019 and is now past its late 1990s peak.”
“While prolonged COVID symptoms may not be the only contributor to the increase in long-term illness in the working-age population, it is likely that the broader health impact of the pandemic will continue to be an important factor in the increase in long-term illnesses,” the ONS said. report.
A recent survey by the British Trades Union Congress found that 20 per cent of people with long-term COVID were not working and a further 16 per cent were working reduced hours.
In January 2022, Brookings Metro released a report that assessed the impact of prolonged COVID on the job market. Data on the prevalence of the condition were limited, so the report used multiple studies to make a conservative estimate: About 16 million working-age Americans (those ages 18 to 65) have long-standing COVID in the present. Of those, between 2 and 4 million are out of work due to the long duration of COVID, while the annual cost of those lost wages alone is around US$170 billion a year, and potentially as much as US$230,000. millions of dollars.
While the worsening health of the British population is an emergency in its own right, with at least 5.5 million people in Britain awaiting hospital treatment, it has serious repercussions for the economy, the Financial Times reported.
“We are in an arms race against the virus, and the virus is now firmly in control of the battlefield. Just because we have lost interest, the virus has not,” Altmann said recently.
Despite its name, SARS-CoV-2 not only causes acute respiratory disease, but can also cause acute and post-acute extrapulmonary sequelae in almost all organ systems, including acute and chronic kidney disease, and has affected millions of people around the world.
Given the scale and chronic nature of many of its aftermath, “the long run of COVID will reverberate with us for decades, with broad and deep global security, economic, political and social implications, long after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.” , said. The report.
“I wish we could raise awareness levels a bit more,” Altmann said, advising people on public transportation, in a theater or at the opera to wear masks and “take it a little bit seriously.”
From limited access to preventative care to increased risk of pre-existing conditions, the reasons why the most vulnerable communities and groups are more susceptible to prolonged COVID are many, according to Harvard Medical School.
Certain populations in the United States experience higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, heart disease, and cancer, conditions known to increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19, which in turn increases the risk of a prolonged COVID.
In total, the United States has seen more than 98 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 1 million related deaths. According to public health experts, the enormous impact of the virus in the United States can be attributed in part to underinvestment in long-term care, primary care, and public health departments. As a result, some people were more vulnerable to COVID and had little connection or trust with healthcare providers who urged them to maintain social distancing, wear masks, and get vaccinated.
“This is more than just a failure of a health system,” David Rosner, who studies public health and social history at Columbia University‘s Mailman School of Public Health, told The Guardian in May. “It’s a failure of American ideology.” ■