Long Covid is affecting women more than men, national survey finds
A woman receives a dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a sport stadium during the coronavirus disease pandemic, in Vina del Mar, Chile, April 22, 2021.
Rodrigo Garrido | Reuters
Long Covid is more common among women than men, according to federal data.
More than 17% of women have had long Covid at some point during the pandemic, compared with 11% of men, according to data from U.S. Census Bureau and National Center for Health Statistics published this month.
Long Covid was defined as experiencing symptoms for three months or more after infection. The most recent data was collected through an online survey of more than 41,000 adults during the two weeks ending Oct. 17.
Women were also more likely to suffer from more severe long Covid, the survey found. Some 2.4% of all women had symptoms that significantly limited their normal activities, compared with 1.3% of men, according to the data.
Overall, more than 14% of U.S. adults had long Covid at some point during the pandemic, the survey found. Seven percent of U.S. adults currently have long Covid, according to the data.
If those figures held true for the general population, 36 million adults could have had long Covid at some point during the pandemic, while 18 million could currently be dealing with it.
About 2% of adults in the U.S. have suffered from more severe long Covid symptoms that significantly limited their daily activities, according to the data. That would be equivalent to more than 5 million people in the general U.S. adult population.
The Brookings Institution, in a separate analysis, found that as many as 4 million people in the U.S. are unable to work due to long Covid.
Long Covid presents a wide array symptoms that vary from mild to debilitating and affect multiple organ systems. Some of the most commonly reported symptoms include poor memory or brain fog, fatigue, shortness of breath and loss of smell, according to a recent study published in Journal of the American Medical Association.
The JAMA study also found that long Covid was more common among women. Nearly 18% of Covid survivors who had symptoms for more than two months were women, while 10% were men.
The dominant Covid variant and vaccination status may also play roles in how likely people are to get long Covid.
Nearly 60% people who developed long Covid were infected with the original virus strain that emerged in China, while more than 17% caught the delta variant and more than 10% had omicron, according to the JAMA study.
The study found that 87% of those who had long Covid were unvaccinated.
“There may be differences in these strains and how likely they are to cause long Covid that could teach us something about why this happens,” said Dr. Roy Perlis, the lead author on the study and co-director of the Center for Quantitative Health at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The JAMA study, which published last week, looked at more than 16,000 adults who tested positive for Covid. The data was collected from February 2021 through July 2022 from a national online survey conducted every six weeks called the Covid States Project.
Scientists do not understand the underlying cause of long Covid yet, though there’s a growing consensus that it is likely several distinct conditions and not a single disease. The National Institutes of Health is enrolling a massive study, called Recover, to precisely define the different types of long Covid, identify risk factors and develop tests and treatments.