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Who’s most at risk of developing long COVID? Experts think these 6 groups of people might be

0 2 years ago

It’s hard to say who’s at risk for a condition that’s yet to be well defined, experts tell Fortune. But just as researchers and practitioners have their theories about long COVID’s root causes, they have educated guesses about who might be most at risk.

An enigmatic condition

Long COVID is, quite possibly, the great enigma of our time.

It’s “a very big umbrella term,” Dr. Alba Miranda Azola, co-director of the Post-Acute COVID-19 Team Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, tells Fortune.

“It’s patient defined, patient created,” she says of the condition federal officials say could affect up to 23 million Americans. “Thus, the patients define themselves as having long COVID, and the term is very inclusive.”

As research into the nascent condition expands, it seems that almost anything and everything could be a symptom—from ear numbness, a sensation of “brain on fire,” and erectile dysfunction to irregular menstrual periods, constipation, and peeling skin, according to a landmark study published last summer in British medical journal The Lancet.

Recently scientists have attempted to categorize long COVID patients into subgroups, hypothesizing that the disease isn’t one thing, but many.Dr. Alexandra Brugler Yonts—an infectious disease specialist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., and the head of its new Pediatric Post-COVID Program—tells Fortune she divides long COVID into five categories, grouped by causes: long-term direct effects of the virus, inflammation, dysautonomia (a disorder of the autonomic nervous system that can cause symptoms like abnormal heart rate), ongoing viral activity, and altered immune response.

Dr. Petter Brodin—a COVID researcher, professor of pediatric immunology, and pediatrician at the Imperial College of London—tells Fortune he divides long COVID patients into three categories that may overlap: autoimmune disease triggered by COVID, metabolic disease triggered by COVID, and long-term persistence of the virus.

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