People view thousands of white flags representing Americans who have died of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) placed over 20 acres of the National Mall in Washington, U.S., September 26, 2021.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
Long Covid has contributed to the deaths of more than 3,500 people since the pandemic began, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.
This is the first official U.S. estimate of how many people have died from the mysterious array of conditions that afflict people months after their initial Covid infection. Long Covid played a role in less than 1% of the more than 1 million Covid-19 deaths recorded from January 2020 through June 2022, according to the report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
CDC analysts examined death certificates from January 2020 through June 2022 that listed Covid as a contributing or underlying cause of death. The analysts then looked more closely at these death certificates to identify language indicating long Covid played a role in the death.
The U.S. had not implemented an official diagnostic code for long Covid at the time of the study. As a result, the analysts chose common terms for the condition including “chronic Covid,” “long Covid,” “long haul Covid,” “long hauler Covid” and “post Covid” among others.
The authors said the report may underestimate the true number of deaths from long Covid because clinical guidance on how to identify and report the condition has changed over time. This means the study may have missed other key terms used on death certificates that indicate long Covid played a role.
Long Covid deaths peaked at 3.8% of all Covid fatalities in April 2022, according to the report. Seniors ages 75 and older accounted for about 57% of the 2,490 long Covid deaths with detailed demographic information.
The death rate for long Covid was highest among American Indians and Native Alaskans at 14.8 per 100,000. Overall, most people who died from long Covid, 78.5%, were white, according to the report. Ten percent were Black and 7.8% were Hispanic.
Scientists still do not fully understand what causes long Covid, and public health experts are still trying to find out exactly how many people are impacted in the U.S. There’s no official medical definition of long Covid in the U.S. yet, though it generally refers to a diverse array of symptoms that can persist for months after infection.
Long Covid can range widely from mild to debilitating symptoms impacting multiple organ systems that prevent people from returning to work.