It may not contain any major surprises, but a recent large-scale Scottish study "provides powerful evidence" that long COVID is a major public health concern—and it does so in a more rigorous and expansive way than previous studies, per the Washington Post. In reporting the initial results from the national Covid Study of Scotland, published Wednesday in Nature Communications, the researchers first noted their meta-analysis of 63 long COVID studies found only two that had more than 1,000 participants: one of a hospitalized cohort and the other involving a cohort of health-care workers who experienced mild infections. This study was a nationwide one involving some 100,000 participants, roughly a third of whom had laboratory-confirmed COVID infections.
Researchers found that 1 in 20 infected people had not fully recovered within 6 to 18 months after infection, and 42% only felt "somewhat better." Women, the elderly, and people from economically disadvantaged communities were more likely to experience long COVID, along with anyone who was sick enough to be hospitalized by a COVID infection. The study's 62,957-person never-infected control group helped researchers pinpoint which symptoms were linked to COVID as opposed to other health issues common in the general population.
Researchers found that the most common long-COVID symptoms include breathlessness, palpitations, chest pain, and "brain fog." Vaccinations appear to provide some protection, and people with asymptomatic cases were less likely to suffer the effects of long COVID, but some still do. An expert at Mt. Sinai told the Post that the study shows "that we should be extremely concerned about the current numbers of acute infections," because it means that many more people will likely be plagued by long COVID.
Current estimates suggest between 7 million and 23 million Americans have long COVID, and the problem persists around the globe. The Guardian on Wednesday quoted WHO director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as warning "the impact of long COVID for all countries is very serious and needs immediate and sustained action equivalent to its scale." (Read more long COVID stories.)