Long COVID-19 on death certificates: 5 CDC report notes

Long COVID-19 has contributed to the deaths of at least 3,544 people in the U.S., according to a CDC analysis of death certificates published Dec. 14. Experts who reviewed the report say the findings are almost certainly an undercount. 

In the first national examination of how long COVID-19 shows up on death certificates, researchers looked at death certificate data from Jan. 1, 2020, to June 30, 2020. Of the 1,021,487 deaths with COVID-19 listed as an underlying or contributing cause of death, 3,544, or 0.3 percent, mentioned long COVID-19 or related terms. 

"It's not one of the leading causes of death, but, considering that this is the first time that we've looked at it and that long COVID-19 is an illness that we’re learning more about day after day, the major takeaway is that it is possible for somebody to die and for long COVID-19 to have played a part in their death," Farida Ahmad, a health scientist at the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC who led the study, told The New York Times. 

Four more notes: 

1. Nearly 57 percent of long COVID-19-related deaths were among people 75 and older. 

2. Overall, long COVID-19 or related terms, such as "post COVID," were more likely to be listed on death certificates in the weeks and months following a peak in COVID-19 cases. 

3. Nearly 70 percent of death certificates that mentioned long COVID-19 listed COVID-19 as the underlying cause of death. 

4. The report found some patterns related to COVID-19 deaths did not apply to long COVID-19-related deaths. For instance, Black and Hispanic patients did not have higher death rates related long COVID-19 than white patients, despite having higher death rates from initial infection. "These differences may be due to higher mortality among non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic populations, resulting in fewer COVID-19 survivors left to experience long COVID-19 conditions," the report said. 

"This is just scratching the surface — this is a first look," David Putrino, PhD, director of rehabilitation innovation at New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System, told the Times. "This is an important thing to explore and study, but it shouldn’t be used as a proxy for saying, Oh, well, long COVID isn't that severe because look how few deaths there are. … We should not be measuring the damage that long COVID does by deaths alone."


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