Long COVID can kill, or so found what's thought to be the first nationwide study on the subject. The CDC analyzed death certificates in the National Vital Statistics System from the period Jan. 1, 2020, to June 30, 2022, that had a diagnostic code for COVID-19; there were 1,021,487 of them. CNN reports there wasn't a specific code for long COVID at that time, so researchers instead searched those certificates for terms that would indicate long COVID—among them "post-COVID syndrome," "chronic COVID," or "long-haul COVID." That returned 3,544 death certificates, or 0.3% of the total. "It's not one of the leading causes of death, but ... the major takeaway is that it is possible for somebody to die and for long COVID to have played a part in their death," study author Farida Ahmad tells the New York Times.
Most agree that number is likely an undercount, as it's taken time for long COVID to be recognized by doctors, and the diagnostic code for it wasn't in place until October 2021, reports the Washington Post. As for those that were identified as long COVID deaths, just over half occurred in people 75 and older, and 78.5% were among non-Hispanic white people. Non-Hispanic Black people accounted for 10.1% of the deaths, and Hispanic people for 7.8%. In about a third of the cases, the main cause of death wasn't given as COVID, but as conditions like heart disease, cancer, or Alzheimer's.
Dr. David Putrino, who wasn't involved in the study, tells CNN it's a "fairly myopic view" of long COVID deaths. "This is very clearly data from folks who got very sick [and] ended up at the hospital with sustained organ damage." He called for other long COVID-related deaths to be studied, including those where sufferers died of suicide. (Read more long COVID stories.)