Long Covid has been a reality for over 23 million Americans. It not only impacts day-to-day life, but also the workforce, with nearly 1 million people being pushed out of work due to their symptoms. Despite the widespread impact long Covid has had on our country a new study found promising evidence that for most that developed long Covid symptoms after a mild covid infection, symptoms faded within one year.
While there is no official definition for long COVID, healthcare providers across the country diagnose patients based on a wide variety of symptoms that can include fatigue, brain fog, and memory issues. New information also sheds light on the increased risk of developing issues related to the heart, kidneys, stroke, and more. One significant finding that after one year, those who had COVID-19 were 63% more likely to have some kind of cardiovascular issue, resulting in about 45 additional cases per 1,000 people. Risks were elevated even among people who did not have severe COVID-19, according to the American Heart Association.
Long COVID has become so prevalent and in some cases, debilitating, that in July 2021 the CDC officially included long COVID as a disability protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Long COVID—or post-COVID conditions—is a wide range of new, returning or ongoing health problems people may experience more than four weeks after being first infected with SARS-CoV-2. There are a wide range of symptoms that are slowly revealing themselves to be associated with long COVID, with one large meta-analysis of 25 studies outlining that the prevalence of long COVID may be as high as 80% of those that have been infected with the virus.
But the good news for those that developed long Covid after a mild infection is that symptoms largely fade within a year. The study investigators, led by Shira Greenfeld, MD, of Maccabi Healthcare Serivces, Tel Aviv, Israel, also point out that the majority of the 500 million persons who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 worldwide experience mild disease. The research team followed mild cases of COVID-19 for 1 year following infection and assessed the association of symptoms with age, sex, SARS-CoV-2 variant infection, and vaccination status.
The researchers found that there were five long Covid symptoms that were significantly associated with both the early (30-180 days) and late (180-360 days) time periods after infection:
- Anosmia (loss of smell) and dysgeusia (loss of taste)
- Cognitive impairment (often referred to as fogginess)
- Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
While vaccinated people showed a significantly reduced risk of shortness of breath over the one-year period, the occurrence of other symptoms remained similar to unvaccinated people that experienced a mild Covid infected that did not result in hospitalization.
The team concluded that their nationwide cohort analysis suggests mild COVID-19 infection “does not lead to serious or chronic long-term morbidity in that vast majority of patients.”
“Although the long COVID phenomenon has been feared and discussed since the beginning of the pandemic, we observed that most health outcomes arising after a mild disease course remained for several months and returned to normal within the first year,” the researchers wrote.
While this is great news for those that experienced mild cases of Covid, the reality is that there is no way of knowing whether an infection will be mild or more serious. For that reason, it is important to still take precaution, particularly during this season with the added risks of flu and RSV. Practice the basics like hand hygiene, stay home if you feel sick, get adequate rest, eat nutritious foods, exercise, get regular well-checks to catch any underlying concerns early. Keep tabs on reported infection levels in your area (and keep in mind those are going to be lower than actual cases as it only tracks what is reported) and wear a mask indoors when cases rise. Get vaccinated. There is an abundance of evidence that shows the COVID-19 vaccination (and boosters) prevent against serious illness and hospitalization.