HHS' Rachel Levine: Long COVID will affect U.S. for 'years to come'

So-called long COVID infections that leave people with symptoms longer than 12 weeks and new chronic illnesses will likely affect the U.S. for “years to come,” the top deputy at the Department of Health and Human Services warned Wednesday.

Rachel Levine, assistant secretary of health and human services, cited an April 5 Biden administration memo calling for “a whole-of-government response” to address the growing number of Americans whose afflictions outlast the virus.

“It is important to focus a new lens on the pandemic and direct much-needed attention to Long COVID. Taking care of affected patients presents challenges given the incompleteness of research, the lack of sufficient diagnostics support, and pervasive problems with access to services,” Dr. Levine wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

According to a 2022 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of 63.4 million health records, 1 in 5 adult COVID-19 survivors aged 18 to 64 years and 1 in 4 survivors 65 and older have lingering health problems “related to their previous COVID-19 illness,” she wrote.

Those problems often target the body’s organs. They include new onset heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, hematologic disorders, neurologic conditions and mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

Dr. Levine also cited a parallel modeling study showing that 4.3 million to 9.7 million adults, especially women, “have new long-term symptoms that limit their daily activities after SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

Long COVID survivors have reported extreme fatigue, loss of taste, loss of smell, breathlessness and muscle weakness continuing for months after being infected. In extreme cases, some COVID survivors have been unable to return to work up to six months after infection.

Dr. Levine noted that as of July 26, the U.S. has reported an estimated 90 million COVID infections and 1 million deaths, with omicron subvariants such as BA.5 and BA.4 now the dominant strains.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.


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