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1 in 5 People Who Get COVID Have These Symptoms

Long COVID may be much worse than we think.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

A large new study from the CDC shows that one in five people who survived COVID-19 will experience serious and debilitating long-term symptoms of the virus. "It is sobering to see the results of this study again confirming the breadth of organ dysfunction and the scale of the problem," says Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of research and development at the V.A. St. Louis Health Care System and a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Is Long COVID?

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Long COVID is the name given to symptoms of the COVID-19 virus that can go on for months or even years after someone is infected. The CDC looked at medical records of two million COVID patients and found that 21% of those aged 18-64 and almost 27% of those over 65 developed long Covid. "Long COVID can be horrible. Clinics that specialize in caring for this syndrome, so-called post-COVID care centers, are popping up, but there is no miracle cure in sight," says Jonathan Jarry, M.Sc.

2

Ongoing Respiratory and Lung Issues

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COVID patients both under and over 65 had double the risk of developing ongoing respiratory and lung problems, including pulmonary embolism, compared to those who were not infected. 

"Consequences of prolonged multi-organ symptoms and complications from COVID-19 infection are a growing health concern," says Virginia A. Schad, PharmD, RPh. "Residual organ damage post-COVID-19 range from self-limited abnormalities to major lung diseases."

3

Multiple Organs Are Affected

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The CDC report shows that 38% of all patients over 18 experienced a wide range of symptoms post-COVID. "Conditions affected multiple systems, and included cardiovascular, pulmonary, hematologic, renal, endocrine, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, neurologic, and psychiatric signs and symptoms," reads the report.

4

What Is Causing Long COVID?

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Investigation into what might be causing long COVID continues as more evidence comes to light. "It may be that the virus causes injury to certain organs, like the lungs and the kidneys, which results in symptoms long after the acute infection has resolved itself," says Jarry. "This coronavirus seems capable of sticking around in certain parts of our body, which is in keeping with what is known of other coronaviruses (summarized here). The virus could continue replicating or, even if it was too fragmented to do so, could trigger a persistent reaction of the immune system."

5

Women and Long COVID

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Women are twice as likely to experience long COVID symptoms, research shows. "Scientists know there are similar differences for other kinds of conditions. For example, women are much more likely than men to develop autoimmune conditions such as lupus or multiple sclerosis," say Catherine Weldon, associate scientist at 23andMe, and genetic epidemiologist Stella Aslibekyan.

6

How to Stay Safe Out There

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Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more