For many in Los Angeles County, prolonged COVID limited their daily lives End-shutdown

According to a recent survey, the majority of Los Angeles County residents who have been affected by COVID for a long time reported experiencing symptoms severe enough to limit their daily activities for more than four weeks after becoming infected.

The results shed light on the prevalence of the still poorly understood syndrome, as well as the continued risk posed by the coronavirus, even as the number of new cases declines.

“These data show us that, for some people, the impacts of COVID can last much longer than the initial acute infection,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

As part of a survey conducted by USC’s COVID-19 Pandemic Research Center In collaboration with the county health department, residents were asked if they had experienced any of the symptoms that lasted more than four weeks after the original COVID-19 infection.

Of the 675 people who responded to that question in January and February, 54% said they had had at least one, according to findings Ferrer presented during a briefing late last month.

The most frequently reported symptoms were extreme tiredness or fatigue, mental confusion, and persistent cough. Other illnesses included depression or anxiety, body aches, trouble sleeping, headaches, joint pain, shortness of breath, and loss of taste or smell.

Among self-reported long-distance commuters, 77% said their symptoms limited their typical daily activities to some degree, such as going to work or school, taking care of personal needs, or socializing with others. A quarter of them said they experienced “significant limitations.”

“Most people with long-term COVID start to get better slowly. However, there are also people who have had prolonged COVID for many months, or even years, which has sometimes resulted in disability,” Ferrer said.

Respondents were randomly selected and weighted to represent the demographics of the county, according to the Department of Public Health.

The precise prevalence of long-term COVID remains a subject of study and debate. Survey data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Census Bureau suggest 27.4% of adults nationwide who have ever had COVID-19, and 14.7% of adults overall, are dealing with symptoms lasting three months or longer.

As for the difference in symptom duration between the federal and Los Angeles County surveys, Ferrer said that “neither is right or wrong. Both are capturing a different type of group of people who would be eligible to provide us with information about their experiences.”

In either case, the repercussions can be serious. A study released by the CDC in December found that prolonged COVID was implicated in more than 3,500 deaths nationwide between January 2020 and June 2022.

“This is a serious problem that is the enduring part of the pandemic,” said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Institute for Translational Research in La Jolla. “We don’t have a definitive treatment for any component of long-term COVID, of which there are multiple.”

during a recent discussion with Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco, Topol, said: “We have left these people in the lurch. We haven’t found anything to help treat them.”

“It’s a serious matter because we have tens of millions of people around the world who are suffering,” he added.

Researchers have suggested several possible root causes of prolonged COVID. One theory is that viral reservoirs can remain in the body months or even years after the infection has cleared.

Others include the possibility that some infections cause blood clotting problems that damage the circulatory system; that the coronavirus could destroy key tissues during the acute stage of an infection, leading to longer-lasting illness; and that the virus triggers an overactive immune response that causes harmful inflammation or triggers certain antibodies to attack the patient’s own cells.

Although Ferrer said, “No one is immune to prolonged COVID, even if they are healthy and even if their infection is mild,” there are some factors that could make someone more prone to developing long-lasting symptoms.

Those most at risk include people who were not vaccinated, who experienced more severe illness from COVID-19, or who had underlying health conditions prior to infection. Children who have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, are also more vulnerable to prolonged COVID.

Los Angeles County residents with questions about extended COVID, or who need help identifying or accessing resources, can contact the Department of Public Health at (833) 540-0473 daily from 8 a.m. to 8: 30 p.m.

For those looking to reduce their chances of contracting COVID for a long time, Ferrer suggested getting up to date with vaccinations, getting tested if they were exposed to the coronavirus or if an infection is suspected, and starting treatment immediately if necessary.

“The best way to prevent long-term COVID is obviously to avoid getting infected or reinfected,” he said. “When you’re out doing the activities you love, assess the situation (who will be there, potential exposures) and implement common sense protections where warranted.”

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