The average person suffering from long Covid did not initially have a serious infection, a new report suggests. The study, an investigation into private insurance claims, found three-quarters of patients diagnosed with long-term Covid-19 infection were not hospitalized. In addition, the researchers noted that patients were most likely to have been diagnosed with symptoms such as fatigue and difficulty breathing.
Last October, long covid has been codified in the latest edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), a code book used by doctors, hospitals and insurance companies for diagnostic and billing purposes. This code, officially known as U09.9 post-covid-19 condition, unspecified, allowed patients to be officially recognized as having long-term illness with Covid. But it also gave researchers another way to study these patients on a larger scale.
That Report, conducted by FAIR Health, a nonprofit that claims to have the nation’s largest database of privately billed health insurance claims, is one of the first research to do just that.
Using their database, the authors identified nearly 80,000 patients who had been diagnosed with post-Covid symptoms in the four months from the introduction of the ICD code to January 2022, their original Covid-19 case.
“Post-Covid conditions have become an issue of growing national concern,” said Robin Gelburd, President of FAIR Health, in a press release. “We hope these findings will prove helpful to everyone diagnosed with post-Covid illness, as well as providers, payers, policymakers and researchers.”
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Other research has consequent found that the more severe your initial infection, the more likely you are to experience ongoing complications and an early death. But studies have also shown that even people with mild to moderate cases are at greater risk of developing a variety of health problems later than people who get other respiratory infections. Most people who contract Covid-19 don’t end up in the hospital either. So while the individual risk of prolonged symptoms may be lowest for people with milder Covid-19, there are simply many more people in this group than survivors of a serious illness.
The report’s other findings could provide additional insights into long Covid. For example, the most represented age group of patients (34.6%) was between 36 and 50 years old, but that may be because older Americans are typically covered by public Medicare plans. Women were more likely to have been diagnosed than men and were more likely not to have been hospitalized initially. The three most common diseases diagnosed at the same time were “respiratory abnormalities” (23.2%), cough (18.9%) and malaise/fatigue (16.7%). And while many patients already had health problems, 30% had never been diagnosed with a chronic illness prior to their long Covid.
The report is a white paper, which means it has not been subjected to formal peer review, an important part of validating scientific research. The results should therefore be treated with more caution than usual. No single study, even if peer-reviewed, should have the final say on anything. But the sheer volume of data available lends credence to the findings, and it’s likely that other researchers will be able to use ICD-10 data for similar studies in the future.
For their part, the authors plan to further analyze their data, both to follow the long-term outcomes of these patients and to investigate whether vaccination reduced the risk of a long covid, like others research has suggested that it is possible.