Determining the effects of long COVID in young adults

By Anne Riker Garlington

An estimated 17 million Americans are currently experiencing long COVID, which is defined as the signs, symptoms and conditions that continue or develop after acute COVID-19 infection.

A UF PHHP team lead a new study to examine effects of long COVID among young adults. Top row: Ragan Grantham, Dr. Molly Jacobs. Bottom row: Dr. Charles Ellis.
A UF PHHP team has published a new study to examine effects of long COVID among young adults. Top row: Ragan Grantham, Dr. Molly Jacobs. Bottom row: Dr. Charles Ellis.

As scientists and clinicians seek to better understand the condition, researchers in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions have published a new study highlighting the long COVID experiences of young adults. Their findings suggest long COVID often presents differently in young adults than it does in older individuals, but this feature of the condition has received little attention to date.

The study team includes Ragan Grantham, a recent graduate of PHHP’s Bachelor of Health Science, communication science and disorders program; Molly Jacobs, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of health services research, management and policy; and Charles Ellis, Jr., Ph.D., a professor and chair of the department of speech, language, and hearing sciences.

“I was drawn to this research because long COVID symptoms are affecting young adults during monumental moments in their lives where they may be pursuing a degree, establishing careers and forming lifelong social connections,” Grantham said.

According to the study authors, long COVID’s long term effects may include sensory issues such as tiredness or fatigue, depression, difficulty thinking, concentrating or memory problems sometimes referred to as “brain fog,” ringing in the ears, blurry vision, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, joint or muscle pain, dizziness, change in taste or smell, inability to exercise and/or reduction in patient’s abilities to engage in pre-COVID activities.

The study, which appears in the July issue of the Internet Journal of Allied Health Sciences and Practice, used data from a quarter of a million participants who responded to the Household Pulse Survey, a data collection instrument from the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies designed to measure COVID’s impact on people’s daily lives. The UF team analyzed the responses of survey participants aged 18 to 45.

These findings demonstrated that while young adults were more likely to have COVID than their older counterparts, they were less likely to get vaccinated and also less likely to experience long COVID symptoms than those over the age of 45.

Additional information is urgently required to better understand the impact of long COVID on young adults, particularly given its potential impact on their long-term futures, the authors write. 

Jacobs shares some quick facts about long COVID:

  • The most prevalent symptoms of long COVID are not the high fever or respiratory difficulties that are normally associated with acute COVID, but fatigue, brain fog and other sensory issues.
  • While long COVID follows acute COVID-19, it presents varying symptomology for an unknown period of time.
  • U.S. federal agencies and the World Health Organization have not been able to capture the prevalence and duration of long COVID due to the broad variation in symptoms.
  • Scientific, clinical and epidemiological understanding of long COVID is still emerging.
  • It can be challenging to diagnose long COVID and thereby difficult to treat. 
  • Long COVID symptoms can develop in any age group.