Factors Associated with Long Covid Symptoms in an Online Cohort Study

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2022 Dec 6:2022.12.01.22282987. doi: 10.1101/2022.12.01.22282987.


Importance: Prolonged symptoms following SARS-CoV-2 infection, or Long COVID, is common, but few prospective studies of Long COVID risk factors have been conducted.

Objective: To determine whether sociodemographic factors, lifestyle, or medical history preceding COVID-19 or characteristics of acute SARS-CoV-2 infection are associated with Long COVID.

Design: Cohort study with longitudinal assessment of symptoms before, during, and after SARS-CoV-2 infection, and cross-sectional assessment of Long COVID symptoms using data from the COVID-19 Citizen Science (CCS) study.

Setting: CCS is an online cohort study that began enrolling March 26, 2020. We included data collected between March 26, 2020, and May 18, 2022.

Participants: Adult CCS participants who reported a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result (PCR, Antigen, or Antibody) more than 30 days prior to May 4, 2022, were surveyed.

Exposures: Age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, employment, socioeconomic status/financial insecurity, self-reported medical history, vaccination status, time of infection (variant wave), number of acute symptoms, pre-COVID depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use, sleep, exercise.

Main outcome: Presence of at least 1 Long COVID symptom greater than 1 month after acute infection. Sensitivity analyses were performed considering only symptoms beyond 3 months and only severe symptoms.

Results: 13,305 participants reported a SARS-CoV-2 positive test more than 30 days prior, 1480 (11.1% of eligible) responded to a survey about Long COVID symptoms, and 476 (32.2% of respondents) reported Long COVID symptoms (median 360 days after infection).Respondents' mean age was 53 and 1017 (69%) were female. Common Long COVID symptoms included fatigue, reported by 230/476 (48.3%), shortness of breath (109, 22.9%), confusion/brain fog (108, 22.7%), headache (103, 21.6%), and altered taste or smell (98, 20.6%). In multivariable models, number of acute COVID-19 symptoms (OR 1.30 per symptom, 95%CI 1.20-1.40), lower socioeconomic status/financial insecurity (OR 1.62, 95%CI 1.02-2.63), pre-infection depression (OR 1.08, 95%CI 1.01-1.16), and earlier variants (OR 0.37 for Omicron compared to ancestral strain, 95%CI 0.15-0.90) were associated with Long COVID symptoms.

Conclusions and relevance: Variant wave, severity of acute infection, lower socioeconomic status and pre-existing depression are associated with Long COVID symptoms.

Key points: Question: What are the patterns of symptoms and risk factors for Long COVID among SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals?Findings: Persistent symptoms were highly prevalent, especially fatigue, shortness of breath, headache, brain fog/confusion, and altered taste/smell, which persisted beyond 1 year among 56% of participants with symptoms; a minority of participants reported severe Long COVID symptoms. Number of acute symptoms during acute SARS-CoV-2 infection, financial insecurity, pre-existing depression, and infection with earlier variants are associated with prevalent Long COVID symptoms independent of vaccination, medical history, and other factors.Meaning: Severity of acute infection, SARS-CoV-2 variant, and financial insecurity and depression are associated with Long COVID symptoms.

Publication types

  • Preprint