Individuals who survived Covid-19 in the early stages of the pandemic, prior to the availability of vaccines, continued to face an elevated risk of various health issues for up to two years following their initial recoveries, compared to those who tested negative, as per a recent study. This was especially prominent among those who had been hospitalized due to the virus.
These health problems, collectively referred to as long Covid, encompassed heart ailments, blood clotting disorders, diabetes, neurological complications, fatigue, and mental health challenges.
When researchers assessed the risks associated with over 80 different complications linked to long Covid, they quantified the cumulative impact using a measure known as a disability-adjusted life year (DALY). Each DALY signifies one year of healthy life lost due to illness. The study found that long Covid generated over 80 DALYs for every 1,000 individuals who weren’t hospitalized for their initial infection.
This indicates that the disability burden of long Covid surpasses that of heart disease or cancer, which lead to approximately 52 and 50 DALYs per 1,000 Americans respectively, based on the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease study.
Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, the study’s author, expressed initial shock at these figures, but upon reflection, emphasized that the multi-faceted impact of long Covid on the body makes these outcomes unsurprising. Al-Aly urged the need to treat infections seriously, even seemingly mild ones, as they can result in chronic diseases.
The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, analyzed medical records of almost 140,000 veterans who had survived Covid-19 infections in 2020 for at least 30 days, comparing their health outcomes with approximately 6 million VA health system patients without infection evidence.
Nonetheless, the study’s findings have limitations. The VA health system population is generally older, averaging in their 60s, and predominantly male. Therefore, these findings may not be applicable to younger individuals or women.
Since the study participants weren’t vaccinated at the time of their infections due to the absence of available vaccines, and antiviral treatments were unavailable, the findings may not fully reflect the current scenario where vaccination and early treatment help mitigate long Covid risk.
Furthermore, the slow rollout of tests early in the pandemic may have led to some infected individuals lacking test results in their medical records, potentially misclassifying them into the control group rather than the infection group, thereby underestimating post-infection risks.
While the study showcases the extended physical consequences of early Covid-19 infections, it underscores the need for vigilance even in mild infections, as infections can lead to chronic health problems. The study’s findings support the understanding that the implications of long Covid are diverse and can vary among individuals.