A study that seems to suggest long Covid is more debilitating than cancer has been branded 'irresponsible'.
Like many papers before it, the research published this week in Nature Medicine found that long Covid increases the risk of heart problems, blood clots, diabetes, memory problems, fatigue, and mental health issues.
The academics behind the study then calculated the number of days long Covid patients lived with debilitating symptoms and compared that to the number of days people had cancer and heart disease symptoms on average.
They concluded long Covid causes a 'greater burden of disability' than either of those two chronic conditions.
But a doctor not involved in the research told DailyMail.com the assertion was 'irresponsible' because the study had several large shortcomings that could have skewed results.
They added it could result in an overreaction to long-Covid and a diminishing focus on conditions that affect tens of millions of Americans.
Long Covid is a condition that includes a wide range of symptoms such as shortness of breath, brain fog, fatigue, and depression that linger for weeks or even years after recovering from the virus
Dr Stuart Fischer, an internal medicine physician in New York, told DailyMail.com there are conditions Americans have that are deadlier, more debilitating and pose a higher health and financial burden to both patients and the healthcare system.
He said: 'The entire spectrum of long Covid information varies from unknown to irresponsible for many sources,' he added.
'Instead of emphasizing long Covid, people should worry about obesity and diabetes and high blood pressure.
'These are illnesses that affect a quarter of the population or more.'
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates one in 13 American adults has long Covid, the equivalent of more than 16.5million.
The CDC's estimates have been heavily disputed by many experts who say the symptoms are often so general they could be from other more common conditions.
Long Covid is a condition that includes a wide range of symptoms such as shortness of breath, brain fog, fatigue, and depression that linger for weeks or even years after recovering from the virus.
The study in question this week was carried out by researchers from Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, and published Monday.
They analyzed the medical records of 140,000 veterans who survived for 30 days after testing positive for Covid in 2020 and later developed long Covid symptoms.
Researchers then compared their health to six million other veterans who had not been infected with Covid.
Participants were followed for two years.
Researchers determined the risk of developing at least one of 80 complications associated with long Covid, such as fatigue or trouble breathing.
They then totaled the risks using a measurement called a disability-adjusted life year (DALY). Each DALY represents one year of disability.
The study found that long Covid conditions caused 80 years of disability across 1,000 veterans.
Heart disease and cancer, by comparison, result in 52 and 50 years per 1,000, respectively, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation's Global Burden of Disease Study.
The researchers wrote that these findings could help address long-term care needs for long Covid patients.
Long Covid complications were tallied in a metric medical professionals call a disability-adjusted life year (DALY). Each DALY represents one year of living with a disability. The study found long Covid generated more than 80 DALYs across every 1,000 veterans
Covid cases are on the rise in the US, driven by new variants Eris and BA.2.86
Writing in the study, the team said their findings call 'attention to the care needs of people with long-term health effects due to' Covid.
But Dr Fischer said comparing long Covid to a condition like cancer is irresponsible because cancer is not just one disease.
'Skin cancer and lung cancer are not the same illness. One is minor and might just require a visit to the dermatologist, and lung cancer can be immediately fatal, so the term "cancer" is very, very vague,' he said.
The threat of cancer has also been much better studied and estimated.
Also, the study only looked at veterans, a population already predisposed to a host of physical and mental health issues, including alcohol abuse disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Both of these can suppress the immune system, making those with the conditions more likely to get Covid or autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which long Covid symptoms can mimic.
The study also did not include a diverse population when it comes to age, sex, or race.
According to data from the VA, the most common age range for veterans is 60 to 64. About 90 percent of veterans are male, and more than 70 percent are white.
This means the study only represents a narrow subset of the total US population, and the results may not be applicable to the general US population.
'This is not the ideal study group,' Dr Fischer said.
Additionally, the study only looked at Covid cases in 2020, when infections were more severe because of the lack of vaccines and therapies. The cases studied were also before new strains began circulating.
Now, Covid has mutated multiple times, most recently to the Eris and BA.2.86 strains, and infections are different and often milder than the original strain.
'That was the original virus,' Dr Fischer said. 'This skews the results.'
There is still debate about the true scale and severity of long Covid, and several studies have indicated people who develop the condition would have suffered those symptoms regardless of a Covid infection.
The number of long Covid sufferers is murky, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate one in 13 US adults, or 7.5 percent, have long Covid, defined as symptoms lasting three or more months after first contracting the virus.
The risk of being diagnosed with long Covid also increases with every subsequent infection, according to a study out of the University of Nebraska.
In some instances, the condition was deadly. The CDC reported late last year more than 3,500 Americans had died of a long Covid-related condition in the first two and a half years of the pandemic. These conditions included Covid itself, heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and Alzheimer's.
Thirty percent of the documented deaths occurred in adults aged 75 to 84 years.