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We’re finally learning more about long Covid

But for millions of people who contracted the virus even in the pandemic’s first months, the impact of the disease lingers.

As many as one in five adults who recovered from a Covid-19 infection have experienced at least one medical condition relating to long Covid, according to a study published Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That figure jumps to one in four in people aged 65 and older. The most common conditions among all adults were respiratory symptoms and musculoskeletal pain, the researchers found. Covid patients were also twice as likely as other people to have conditions affecting the lungs.

Despite the vast scientific attention paid to understanding Covid-19 and developing vaccines and treatments, health experts are still learning about long Covid — one of the pandemic’s most unusual and detrimental phenomena.

We don’t even know how many people have it. Estimates of the frequency of long-term symptoms of Covid range from 5% to 80%, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization’s estimates range from 10% to 20%.

CDC researchers analyzed medical records for more than 350,000 people who tested positive between March 2020 and November 2021, so their new study provides a valuable clue to understanding the prevalence of the condition.

Another development came from a Scottish study, published on Monday, which found that more severe cases of Covid-19 can cause long-term damage to a range of organs.

Heart inflammation was found to be an ongoing problem for one in eight patients who were hospitalized with Covid-19, according to the study, which followed the progress of 159 people for a year after their hospital stay.

Inflammation across the body and damage to the kidneys were also common. And the study supported other research that indicated women are more at risk of suffering from long Covid than men.

“COVID-19 is a multi-system disease, and our study shows that injury on the heart, lungs and kidneys can be seen after initial hospitalisation in scans and blood tests,” Colin Berry, the cardiology professor who led the University of Glasgow study, said. He added that their findings “bridge a vital knowledge gap” in our understanding of long Covid.

Earlier research suggests that a small portion of people who now live with long Covid may have shown no Covid-19 symptoms at all when they were initially infected — or have had mild or unusual symptoms.

Last month, US President Joe Biden unveiled a new push to detect and treat long Covid, including raising awareness of the condition as a potential cause of disability.

But the one thing that is certain is that long Covid is unpredictable and, even this deep into the pandemic, it remains something of a scientific enigma.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.

Q: Will there ever be a longer-lasting Covid-19 vaccine?

A: Currently, vaccine immunity fades after a few months, with scientists working around the clock to devise new versions to fight the waves of mutations.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN that “some vaccine platforms give a very high degree of protection but the durability isn’t very long,” because of the constant emergence of new variants.

The mRNA platform — used in the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines — makes redesigning the vaccines easier and faster, but we don’t know how long their immunity lasts because SARS-CoV-2 changes too frequently.

To make a longer-lasting vaccine, Fauci said, “we’ve got to get better platforms and immunogens, maybe with adjuvants (immune-response enhancing substance) that allow us to have a greater durability of protection.”

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READS OF THE WEEK

Three-dose Covid-19 vaccine produces strong immune response in young children, Pfizer and BioNTech say

On Monday, Pfizer and BioNTech said three child-size doses of their Covid-19 vaccine appeared to be safe and “well tolerated,” and showed a strong immune response in children aged 6 months to 5 years.

The vaccine makers said they will finish submitting the trial data to the US Food and Drug Administration this week.

Antibodies tested one month after the third dose was administered in the trial showed the vaccine produced a similar immune response as two doses in 16- to 25-year-olds, the companies said, with mid-trial results showing vaccine efficacy of 80.3% against symptomatic Covid-19.

In a statement, Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said “these topline safety, immunogenicity and efficacy data are encouraging, and we look forward to soon completing our submissions to regulators globally with the hope of making this vaccine available to younger children as quickly as possible, subject to regulatory authorization.”

A new billionaire joined the ranks nearly every day during the pandemic

The wealthy only got wealthier during the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 500 people have joined the ranks of the billionaires since 2020, bringing the worldwide total to 2,668, according to an analysis released by Oxfam on Sunday. That means a new billionaire was minted about every 30 hours, on average, so far during the pandemic.

The cost of energy and food is sending prices rocketing, but these industries are booming, Oxfam said. The head of inequality policy at Oxfam, Max Lawson, said he had “never seen such a dramatic growth in poverty and growth in wealth at the same moment in history.”

The report coincided with the start of the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland on Monday, a gathering of international leaders and the world’s wealthiest.

North Korea claims ‘positive trend’ in Covid cases

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un looks like he’s in trouble. With more than 2 million cases of what the country refers to as “fever” in little more than a week among its famously isolated population of 25 million, there is the potential for a national humanitarian disaster, especially as most are thought to be unvaccinated.

But despite this, state-run media KCNA Sunday reported a “positive trend” that has seen the daily number of new “fever” cases drop below 200,000.

The lack of independent reporting from inside North Korea means these numbers are difficult to verify and met with the same skepticism as the rest of the country’s Covid reporting.

Countries have offered vaccine aid that has yet to be answered. During his visit to South Korea, US President Joe Biden said on Saturday that the US had offered to provide vaccines, but Pyongyang had yet to answer.

TOP TIP

Covid-19 reinfection is not a myth, so always test yourself

If you think being vaccinated or having previously caught Covid-19 means you’re out of the woods, think again.

The latest high-profile case of reinfection comes from late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel, who announced this week that he caught Covid twice in a short space of time.

Make sure to test yourself if you have reason to think you might have Covid, even if you’ve already had it recently.

Listen to our podcast

We’re not alone inside our skin. Instead, we’re accompanied by billions of microorganisms. Not only that, when it comes to our health, they’re in charge. Meet your microbiome. In this episode, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explores the mysteries of this new world within us with microbiologist Brett Finlay. Listen here.
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