CDC report: One third of COVID-19 patients report long-term symptoms

A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that a third of patients who had recovered from COVID-19 reported lasting symptoms two months after their initial positive test. 

The CDC report published on Sept. 17 consisted of a random sample of 366 people aged 18 years and older who received a positive COVID-19 test from April 1 – December 10, 2020. 

Researchers found that people aged 40 and older had even higher odds of contracting long-term symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus. 

"Long COVID" or long haul COVID-19 refers to long-term symptoms that are experienced by patients weeks and sometimes months after initially contracting the disease. 

The CDC says much is still unknown about "long COVID" despite it being reported more and more often.

"Studies have analyzed the aftereffects of COVID-19, but few have assessed the demographic characteristics associated with long COVID," the CDC wrote. 

CDC researchers said there could be possible socioeconomic barriers in the U.S. health care system that may contribute to health disparities and explain demographic characteristics associated with "long haul COVID."

According to the report, Black patients had higher odds of reporting long-term symptoms than those of other ethnic groups. 

On Sept. 10, the CDC released a separate report in which they called long-haul COVID-19 "an emerging public health concern that is not well understood."

While there may be a dearth of data on long-term symptoms associated with COVID-19, the CDC said long-term symptoms are becoming more commonly reported among those who contract the novel coronavirus.

RELATED: CDC calls long-term COVID-19 ‘emerging public health concern’

The CDC drew its conclusion from a survey that consisted of data from 3,135 adults who had been tested for COVID-19 since January 2020. Of the total respondents, 698 tested positive for COVID-19. Out of the total number of respondents who tested positive for the disease, 65.9% reported experiencing symptoms that lasted four weeks or more. 

CDC researchers said fatigue was the most common long-term symptom followed by shortness of breath, change in smell or taste, and cough and headache.

Other long-term symptoms reported included hair loss and cognitive dysfunction.

CDC researchers said much more data is still needed to better understand the problem of long-term COVID-19, adding that "how vaccination affects post-COVID conditions remains unclear."

"Estimating population-level frequency of specific long-term symptoms among the general population and patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 could help health care professionals better understand the types and prevalences of symptoms their patients might experience and could help guide health systems in preparing care management strategies for patients with post-COVID conditions," researchers said.

During the onset of the pandemic, many doctors were baffled by some of the deleterious effects caused by COVID-19 — originally thought to be just a respiratory illness.

Currently, several symptoms of COVID-19 identified in the study are not recognized by the CDC. Symptoms like "COVID toes" and "rheumatoid arthritis" aren’t listed on the CDC’s website detailing the long-term effects of the coronavirus.
According to the CDC, the most commonly reported long-term symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain

Other reported long-term symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with thinking and concentration (sometimes referred to as "brain fog")
  • Depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Intermittent fever
  • Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)

More serious long-term complications appear to be less common but have been reported. These have been noted to affect different organ systems in the body. These include:

  • Cardiovascular: inflammation of the heart muscle
  • Respiratory: lung function abnormalities
  • Renal: acute kidney injury
  • Dermatologic: rash, hair loss
  • Neurological: smell and taste problems, sleep issues, difficulty with concentration, memory problems
  • Psychiatric: depression, anxiety, changes in mood

The CDC said, "While most persons with COVID-19 recover and return to normal health, some patients can have symptoms that can last for weeks or even months after recovery from acute illness."