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Certain US populations are more likely to get long COVID. Yale researchers are examining why

FILE, 2022: Protestors march outside the White House to call attention to those suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Long COVID in Washington, DC.
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FILE, 2022: Protestors march outside the White House to call attention to those suffering from Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Long COVID in Washington, DC.

Two of the country’s top researchers on post-COVID conditions, commonly known as long COVID, have new clues as to who may be at risk for developing lingering symptoms, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Harlan Krumholz and Akiko Iwasaki of the Yale School of Medicine found that being middle aged, female, and having had a severely acute COVID-19 infection is associated with long COVID. The question is why.

“What was it about people’s age, sex, race, ethnicity — how was that associated with long COVID?” Krumholz said.

Researchers know that more women than men develop autoimmune diseases like lupus. Krumholz said further research is needed to find out whether long COVID is also an autoimmune disorder.

Meanwhile, long COVID patients and advocates are frustrated by how much even experts don’t know about their condition.

Diana Berrent, founder of Survivor Corps, an online support group for long COVID patients nationally and in Connecticut, said patients need “an Operation Warp Speed like approach to conducting randomized controlled trials” and are instead being left “to crowdsource off-label options via social media.”

She said researchers should begin trialing antivirals, monoclonal antibodies, Vax-plasma, nicotine, low dose Naltrexone, vagus nerve stimulation and more.

“We should be throwing the spaghetti at the wall,” she said. “Instead, we are ignoring the tremendous pain people are in, many of whom are ‘celebrating’ their fourth year being bed bound.”

The Yale study was based on self-reported COVID infections among 134,000 people in data from the 2022 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the 2022 National Health Interview Survey.

The researchers found that individuals living in rural areas and people without college degrees had an increased risk of developing long COVID.

“It could be that people who were more educated had better access to antiviral drugs like Paxlovid,” Krumholz said.

Black Americans and non-Hispanic Asians were also less likely to report long COVID compared to non-Hispanic white people. Krumholz said that’s a problem around health care access – it could be that fewer Blacks and Asians had a doctor that they could reach.

Dr. Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health, said the paper utilized robust public health datasets and provides additional insights into how certain demographic risk factors and severity of COVID infection are associated with long COVID.

However, there was no data on up-to-date vaccinations and its protective factor against long COVID.

“Other emerging evidence suggests that up-to-date COVID vaccination can be protective from long COVID,” Juthani said.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.