New Study Reveals Long COVID Risk Factors and Recovery Time

A new study from Columbia University provides important insights into the prevalence of long COVID and the factors that influence recovery time. The findings show that one in five adults experience symptoms for more than three months after infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Vaccination and Variant Type Affect Recovery

The researchers found that people who were vaccinated against COVID-19 or infected with the Omicron variant were more likely to recover quickly compared to those who were unvaccinated or infected with earlier variants. “Our study underscores the important role that vaccination against COVID has played, not just in reducing the severity of an infection but also in reducing the risk of long COVID,” said lead author Elizabeth C. Oelsner.

Pre-Existing Health Conditions Linked to Longer Recovery

The study also identified several pre-existing health conditions that were associated with longer recovery times, including cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, chronic lung disease, and a history of smoking. Women were also found to be less likely to recover within three months compared to men.

Surprisingly, the researchers did not find a strong link between pre-existing mental health conditions and long COVID risk. “Although studies have suggested that many patients with long COVID experience mental health challenges, we did not find that depressive symptoms prior to SARS-CoV-2 infection were a major risk factor for long COVID,” Oelsner noted.

The study involved over 4,700 participants who were asked to report their recovery time after COVID-19 infection. The median recovery time was found to be 20 days, with more than 20% of participants experiencing symptoms for longer than three months.

Certain demographic groups were found to be disproportionately affected by long COVID, including American Indian and Alaska Native participants, who experienced more severe infections and longer recovery times on average.

“Our study clearly establishes that long COVID posed a substantial personal and societal burden,” said Oelsner. “By identifying who was likely to have experienced a lengthy recovery, we have a better understanding of who should be involved in ongoing studies of how to lessen or prevent the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

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