How The CDC Is Analyzing Death Certificates To Determine Long COVID Effects

Humanity is only two decades into the 21st century, but we've already weathered several global diseases. Swine flu, ebola, and the avian flu are only a few of the diseases that have swept the globe in the last twenty years, all while the ongoing AIDS and HIV epidemic continue to affect millions of people each year (via HIV.Gov).

Despite their severity, however, none of these conditions brought the world to a standstill. It wasn't until the disease initially known as the "novel coronavirus" — so named because it was a coronavirus not yet seen in humans, according to Baton Rouge General — that a disease disrupted life in such a way.

Most people have begun to move past the initial effects of 2020 and the introduction of COVID-19 in all its forms. But, for some, moving past COVID isn't an option. The World Health Organization states that COVID has killed over 6.5 million people and infected over 646.7 million globally.

Some infections lead to long-term effects, a condition known fittingly as long COVID. Unlike acute COVID infections, long COVID can be hard to track. The CDC explains that there is no diagnostic test for long COVID. Rather, it is diagnosed based on a patient's symptoms. Unfortunately, many of its symptoms can be caused by other conditions, lending further complications.

The issue only becomes further muddled when it comes to long COVID-related deaths. But the CDC has recently announced a new study that might be making headway on the issue.

America needs to standardize Long COVID reporting

The CDC released a statement on Wednesday detailing a first-of-its-kind study. Researchers at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics looked at American death certificates issued between January 2020 and June 2022 that listed COVID as the cause of death. They were looking for long COVID. But, unlike deaths attributed to cancer or heart disease, this was not a straightforward search.

Speaking to ABC News, NCHS researcher Farida Ahmad explained that there is no standardized notation or code for long COVID on death certificates. There is a standard way to mark cancer-related deaths, for example — but long COVID is still too new.

This left researchers needing to use several keyword combinations to make sure they were covering as many bases as possible. As listed in the text of the NCHS report, researchers ultimately used nine terms in all. Some of the terms include "post-COVID syndrome" and "long hauler COVID".

Despite this variety, the report admits several limitations, many of which relate back to the way that long COVID is may or may not be recorded on death certificates. The report states that, without a standard reporting code, it is likely their searches missed many Long COVID-related deaths. Furthering the issue, they only looked at death certificates where COVID is listed as the cause of death..

The study concludes by suggesting a standardized approach to the reporting of long COVID-related deaths. It remains to be seen if the recommendation will be implemented.