Dec 14, 2022 - Health

Long COVID can be deadly — CDC report

 People walk past electric candles from a vigil in Lafayette Park for nurses who died during the COVID-19 pandemic on January 13, 2022, in Washington, DC.

A vigil earlier this year in Lafayette Park, in Washington, D.C., for nurses who died during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Brendan Smialowski /AFP via Getty Images

Long COVID was cited in the death certificates of at least 3,544 people in the U.S. in the first 2.5 years of the pandemic, according to a study published Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The big picture: While this represents 0.3% of the more than 1 million people to have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., CDC health scientist Farida Ahmad told the Washington Post the findings underscore that while long COVID is "associated with long-term illness, it "can be a cause of death."

What they did: Researchers, including study lead author Ahmad, analyzed death certificates mentioning long COVID as the cause or contributing factor of death from Jan. 1, 2020, through June 30, 2022 — noting that "Described changes in mortality trends, death counts, and rates may be underestimates."

What they found: Most of those whose deaths long COVID was cited as a contributing factor were non-Hispanic white (78.5%), male (56%) and older (23.8% were 65–74 years old and 23.5% were 75–84). 10.1% of those who died were Black, followed by Hispanic people at 7.8%.

  • "These differences may be due to higher mortality among non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic populations, resulting in fewer COVID-19 survivors left to experience long COVID conditions," the study notes.
  • "Low rates of long COVID among non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic people may also be due to poor access to health care and appropriate diagnosis and reporting of post-COVID conditions in these populations."

What they're saying: David Putrino, director of rehabilitation innovation for Mount Sinai Health System, told CNN the study was a good starting point, though it took a "fairly myopic view" of COVID deaths.

  • "This is very clearly data from folks who got very sick, ended up at the hospital with sustained organ damage," said Putrino, who works with long COVID patients and was not involved in the study.
  • "We read every single day about people who have previously been healthy, get COVID, recover and then have a heart attack or stroke or pulmonary embolism," added Putrino, noting that suicides have also been linked to long COVID.

The bottom line: "We're just going to continue to get these sorts of skewed records unless we educate physicians that there are many ways that long Covid can cause death, just like there are many ways long Covid can cause permanent disability," Putrino told CNN.

Go deeper: Long COVID is still disabling millions of Americans

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