Long Covid has begun appearing on death certificates for a small percentage of people who have died during the pandemic, but that tiny fraction of records only hints at the whole story, two experts told STAT, while another has doubts about drawing any conclusions from it at all.
Death certificates listing long Covid as a cause of death numbered 3,544, representing 0.3% of the 1,021,487 Covid deaths in the United States from January 2020 through June 2022, according to an analysis issued Wednesday by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To compile the report, researchers pulled a variety of descriptions of long Covid — including post-acute sequelae of Covid-19, long haul Covid, post-Covid conditions — from text entered on death certificates. Until recently, there was no specific diagnostic code for or agreed-upon definition of the symptoms that linger after someone’s acute Covid infection has faded.
Eric Topol, director and founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, dismisses death certificates as unreliable across the board, not just in Covid. “It’s especially clouded because long Covid isn’t known to kill people directly,” he said. “It’s a chronic condition that’s got a lot of ambiguity as to the multiple systems. It’s a mosaic of meaning, so quantifying the deaths is really difficult.”