Is Long COVID Still a Risk?

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Fact checked by Sarah Scott

Key Takeaways

  • Reported cases of long COVID have decreased slightly between 2022 and 2023.

  • About 16% of U.S. adults say they've experienced long COVID after a COVID infection.

  • Currently, there are not any treatment options specifically for long COVID; practitioners treat symptoms directly.

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of reported cases of long COVID-19 have decreased over the last year, from 7.5% of adults in June of 2022 to 6% in June of 2023. That begs the question: Is long COVID still something people need to worry about if they contract COVID?

Because the data is new, limited, and mostly anecdotal, experts can't be sure. But they acknowledge more recent variants are linked to fewer long COVID cases.

"We don’t have great data on the rate of long COVID development and are just getting data on the burden of disease," Christian Sandrock, MD, MPH, division vice chair for internal medicine at U.C. Davis, told Verywell via email. He was not affiliated with the report. "However, we are seeing less referrals to a number of long COVID-based clinics and facilities."

What Is Long COVID?

According to the World Health Organization, long COVID is the continuation or development of new COVID symptoms 3 months after the initial infection. Symptoms must last for at least 2 months with no other explanation.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue that interferes with daily life

  • Fever

  • Shortness of breath

  • Lingering cough

  • Elevated heart rate

  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking (brain fog)

  • Loss of smell or taste

  • Gastrointestinal issues

  • Joint or muscle pain

  • Rash

Why Is Long COVID Decreasing?

Experts think the decline of long COVID cases could be a combination of higher vaccine rates, milder variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and an increase in the number of people who have recovered from long COVID.

Vaccination Status

A recent study of data gathered from patients at the Mayo Clinic found that symptoms of long COVID were reduced in people who contracted the virus after getting a COVID vaccine.

Other studies have also shown reductions in reports of long COVID among people who completed their primary COVID vaccine series and received a booster.

"Two or more doses of vaccine given before infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus showed significant reductions in the rates of long COVID,” Hector Fabio Bonilla, MD, clinical associate professor of infectious diseases at Stanford Medicine, told Verywell via email. "A similar result was less clear with only one dose of vaccine."

Antiviral Medication

The use of antiviral medication in the early stages of a COVID infection can also play a part in reducing the incidence of long COVID. According to Bonilla, monulpriravir, an antiviral given to patients with at least one severe COVID risk factor, shows a 16% reduction in long COVID. This was independent of vaccination status.

Bonilla added that Paxlovid, another popular antiviral used to treat high-risk individuals with COVID, showed a 26% reduction in long COVID independent of vaccination status.

Related: Molnupiravir vs. Paxlovid: Which Is Better for COVID-19?

Variant Type

The timeline of new COVID variants aligns with a decrease in reported instances of long COVID. For example, 42% of long COVID cases are linked to the original COVID variant, 32% to the Alpha variant, and 16% linked to Delta and Omicron variants.

"Data has implied that Omicron comes with less severity and possibly [results in] less long COVID,” Bonilla said.

Related: A Timeline of COVID-19 Variants

How Is Long COVID Currently Treated?

According to Sandrock, treatment is still focused on managing the symptoms of long COVID. Doctors may prescribe medications such as:

  • Beta blockers for autonomic dysfunction

  • Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for brain fog and depression

  • Acyclovir (anti-viral) for inhibiting inflammation response

Other treatment modalities for underlying symptoms associated with long COVID may include:

Related: What Should We Expect From Long COVID Treatment?

Several government initiatives are underway to help better understand the long COVID itself.

In 2022, President Biden launched a National Research Action Plan on Long COVID to address the effects of long COVID on the American population.

The National Institutes of Health has also launched the federal RECOVER program to better understand why some people recover from COVID while others do not. RECOVER will focus on long COVID diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

What This Means For You

While a decrease in Long COVID cases are being reported, there are still millions of Americans experiencing life altering symptoms of Long COVID, impacting quality of life. If you think you are experiencing Long COVID, talk with your healthcare provider about creating a treatment plan that addresses your specific symptoms.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.