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Why Impact of ‘Long Covid’ Could Outlast the Pandemic

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Millions of people who have gotten Covid-19 and survived are finding that a full recovery can be frustratingly elusive. Weeks or even months after seemingly recovering from even a mild case, many patients still confront a wide range of health problems. As researchers try to measure the duration and depth of what’s being called “long Covid,” specialized, post–acute Covid clinics are opening to handle the patients. The scale of the pandemic and persistence of some of Covid’s disabling effects mean the economic pain and drain on health resources could continue well after the contagion ends.

Most patients who suffer from Covid-19 fully recover, but some suffer long-term pulmonary, cardiovascular and nervous-system problems as well as psychological effects. These can occur irrespective of the initial severity of the SARS-CoV-2 infection, but happen more frequently in women, the middle-aged, and in individuals who experienced more Covid symptoms initially. A large study published in November also found differences by age, race, sex and baseline health status, using data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Although most long Covid symptoms don’t seem to be life-threatening, another study published in the journal Nature found that sufferers had a 59% increased risk of dying within six months. That works out to about eight extra deaths per 1,000 Covid patients -- adding to the pandemic’s hidden toll.