New CDC study shows 1 in 5 adults may suffer from long COVID symptoms

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According to the CDC, more than 84 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. A new study shows the prevalence of long COVID symptoms among those who’ve recovered from their initial illness.

“Right now, it’s mainly the fatigue and figuring out when I have to pace myself,” said Jennifer Tucker, who lives in Cottage Grove. “It’s the ‘I cannot keep my eyes open, cannot function, can’t remember what I just said two minutes ago’ kind of fatigue.”

Tucker, who is vaccinated, came down with COVID in January. She experienced fatigue, difficulty breathing and a cough. The virus led to two visits to the emergency room.

The months that followed have been challenging. Tucker tried to return to work as a nurse full-time but had to cut back her hours as she battled the fatigue and brain fog.

“I’d have to sleep all day before going to a shift,” she explained. “I’ve been lucky that I have improved some but it’s not to where it needs to be.”

Tucker told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS she feels grateful for her progress. Through her job as a nurse, she knows others have faced a longer road to recovery.

“I’m still able to function, I’m able to take my kids to school, I’m able to go places with them,” she said. “I’ve talked to patients on the phone where they are can barely get one to two words out to talk to me. It’s just horrible.”

The CDC published a study last week that analyzed electronic health record data of nearly 2 million people, which was recorded from March 2020 through the fall of 2021.

Researchers found about one in five adults, 18 to 64 years old, developed a health condition that might be related to their COVID illness. One in four adults who are 65 years old and older experienced a condition that could be connected to their COVID infection.

Conditions included neurologic problems, mood disorders, kidney failure, heart and lung conditions, blood clot disorders and fatigue.

“It was an important study because it was huge and they dissected all of the potential things that have been attributed to long COVID,” said Dr. Frank Rhame, an infectious disease physician at Allina Health’s Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

The study analyzed the relative risk of 26 different possible disorders.

“What you have to try to decide is how much of this long COVID is just the problems associated with being sick or whether it’s specific to the bug that causes COVID,” said Dr. Rhame. “This article helps sort that out.”

The report shows COVID survivors have twice the risk of developing a blood clot in the lung or a respiratory condition.

“These two clearly are specific to the bug SARS that causes it,” said Dr. Rhame.

He explained the data on mental health conditions also stood out. According to the CDC’s research, COVID survivors who are 65-years-old or older were at an increased risk for neurologic conditions and mental health conditions, including mood disorders, anxiety and substance use related disorders.

Dr. Rhame explained Allina Health has a clinic designated to treating long COVID. He said physicians work to reassure patients that their long COVID symptoms are real.

“There’s no question people with more severe COVID are more likely to get long COVID but there are plenty of people who have mild COVID who have long COVID,” said Dr. Rhame. “You don’t want COVID at all.”

He said treatment options are limited despite the additional information emerging about long-term symptoms.

“None of this {study} really tells you how to treat it,” said Dr. Rhame. “There’s all sorts of things people are trying but as far as I can tell nothing has really done a very good job of treating it.”

Tucker hopes targeted treatments will be developed, and urges state and federal lawmakers to take action to increase research and resources for long COVID clinics.

“We need to know what to do now,” she said. “There’s not a set treatment out there.”

In the meantime, she is working to build up her strength to hopefully return to work full-time in the coming weeks.

“This is what scared me the most, was getting long COVID. This was the thing that everybody else was like you get over it — it’s a virus, it’s like the flu — and that part is fine but it’s the after, that was the part I was the most concerned about,” said Tucker. “There’s a whole group of people over here who this may never be over.”