This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Will you get long COVID? Study breaks down odds of recovery

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

NIAID-RML via AP

It’s likely you’ve heard of long COVID by now, and you may be wondering what’s the likelihood of developing it after a COVID-19 infection.

Researchers in Scotland have sought to determine a person’s long COVID chances in a new, nationwide study examining thousands of people in the country who had COVID-19 compared with those who didn’t.

Long COVID, or post-COVID conditions, is when virus symptoms last much longer than expected — preventing some from a full recovery — and scientists are still trying to understand the entire scope of the condition.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines post-COVID conditions as “new, returning, or ongoing” health issues experienced at least four weeks after a COVID-19 infection. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization defines it as occurring within three months after an infection, with symptoms persisting for two months or longer.

Here’s what you need to know about the new study involving 96,238 people living in Scotland.

Scottish researchers discovered that 48% of study participants still had COVID-19 symptoms between six and 18 months after a recorded, symptomatic COVID-19 infection, according to the findings published Oct. 12 in the journal Nature Communications. Of the group, 42% reported only partially recovering and 6%, or 1 in 20, reported they had not recovered at all.

The work examined 33,281 people who had a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection, according to the researchers. For comparison, the remaining 62,957 study participants were people never known to be infected. The average age of those studied was 45.

“While most people recover quickly and completely after infection with COVID-19, some people develop a wide variety of long-term problems,” lead researcher and public health professor Jill Pell, of the University of Glasgow, said in a statement.

It’s estimated that 16 million working-age adults in the U.S., ages 18 through 65, are currently living with long COVID, according to the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

While long COVID symptoms are wide-ranging, the study found the most common ones shared by participants were “potentially cardiovascular in origin,” including breathlessness, confusion, chest pain and heart palpitations.

Does developing long COVID depend severity of infection?

Scottish researchers discovered that the likelihood of developing long COVID relates to how severe participants’ COVID-19 infections were.

The good news is that those who were asymptomatic during their COVID-19 infection — meaning they reported experiencing no virus symptoms — did not experience lingering virus symptoms, according to the study.

The researchers wrote that long COVID was “specific to symptomatic infections.”

What’s more is that the study found there is a higher likelihood of developing post-COVID conditions for those who had more severe symptoms, especially if a participant had to be hospitalized.

Of 31,486 study participants who experienced COVID-19 symptoms during their infection, specifically 1,856 reported they had not recovered several months later, according to the study. 13,350 participants reported they had “only partially” recovered.

More factors associated with a higher chance of long COVID included “older age, female sex, deprivation, white ethnicity, and pre-existing health conditions,” researchers wrote.

COVID-19 vaccination status also impacted the odds of developing long COVID symptoms, according to the study.

Participants who were vaccinated prior to getting infected with the virus had a lower chance of developing some post-COVID conditions, the researchers wrote.

“We know that being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can reduce the likelihood of developing long-COVID and therefore we encourage those who are eligible for the COVID vaccine to take the opportunity to enhance their protection by getting vaccinated,” Dr. Andrew McAuley, who took part in the study, said in a statement.

The findings come several months after the CDC published research in May that found about 1 in 5 adults may develop at least one long COVID-19 symptom following an infection, McClatchy News previously reported.

“Each of these persons with Long COVID are suffering and has a story that needs to be heard,” Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, a physiatrist and professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, wrote in written testimony presented at a House subcommittee hearing on long COVID in July.

Julia Marnin is a McClatchy National Real-Time reporter covering the southeast and northeast while based in New York. She’s an alumna of The College of New Jersey and joined McClatchy in 2021. Previously, she’s written for Newsweek, Modern Luxury, Gannett and more.

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