Nearly two-thirds of long COVID patients are female, global study finds

A global study found long COVID symptoms to be twice as common in women at least 20 years old as in men of the same age, three months after symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 10 (UPI) — A new global study estimates 6.2% of people with symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection experienced long COVID in 2020 and 2021 with at least one of three symptom groups: persistent fatigue with bodily pain or mood swings, ongoing respiratory problems, and cognitive issues.

Worldwide, nearly two-thirds — or about 63.2% — of people with long COVID were female. And 2 or all 3 of the symptom clusters overlapped in roughly 38.4% of long COVID cases.

And long COVID risk was greater for those who required hospitalization for the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection, especially people who needed the intensive care unit.

That’s according to a global modeling study of 1.2 million people from 22 countries who had symptomatic COVID-19 infection in 2020 and 2021 and survived the virus’s acute phase. The researchers adjusted for their health status before COVID-19.

The study, published Monday in JAMA, included people ages 4 to 66.

In the modeled estimates, long COVID symptoms were more common in women at least 20 years old, at 10.6%, three months after symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, than in men at least 20 years old, at 5.4%.

Children and adolescents fared better: Males and females below 20 years old were estimated to be affected with long COVID in 2.8% of symptomatic COVID-19 infections.

The estimated mean duration of long COVID symptoms was nine months among hospitalized individuals and four months among individuals able to avoid hospital stays.

Among individuals with long COVID symptoms three months after they got symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, roughly 15.1% continued to experience symptoms at 12 months.

In October 2021, the World Health Organization defined the post-COVID-19 condition as symptoms present three months after SARS-CoV-2 infection with a minimum duration of two months, which cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.

The researchers said they hope better quantifying the number of individuals with long COVID helps policy makers “ensure adequate access to services to guide people toward recovery, return to the workplace or school, and restore their mental health and social life.”

They said the large number of people with long COVID also may help lead to an understanding of its characteristics and ways to treat the often debilitating condition.

The new study was largely based on detailed data from ongoing COVID-19 follow-up studies in the United States, along with Austria, the Faroe Islands, Germany, Iran, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland, the research paper said.

It was supplemented by published data from 44 studies and data from two medical record databases, and conducted as part of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study, a vast observational epidemiological study.

Its dozens of authors, led by Sarah Wulf Hanson, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, are referred to as “Global Burden of Disease Long COVID Collaborators.”

Among the study’s limitations, the researchers said it was assumed that long COVID follows a similar course in all countries, though further study may show geographic variation in its occurrence and/or severity.