Long COVID is America’s “next big health crisis” a top researcher has warned after finding evidence that people are dying up to six months after testing positive with the condition.

Dr Ziyad Al-Aly, an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine led a team which looked at the long-term complications of coronavirus.

They found there is nearly a 60 per cent risk of death following even a mild case of COVID-19 and that percentage increases with disease severity.

The study involved 87,000 people who had tested positive for COVID-19 and nearly five million other individuals who were found via a database.

Dr Al-Aly said: “Our study demonstrates that up to six months after diagnosis, the risk of death following even a mild case of COVID-19 is not trivial and increases with disease severity.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that long COVID-19, the long-term health consequences of COVID-19, is America’s next big health crisis. Given that more than 30 million Americans have been infected with this virus, and given that the burden of long COVID-19 is substantial, the lingering effects of this disease will reverberate for many years and even decades.

“Physicians must be vigilant in evaluating people who have had COVID-19. These patients will need integrated, multidisciplinary care.”

Many people who become infected with COVID-19 have reported health problems several months after the illness had passed.

Although initially COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, long COVID-19 can affect nearly every organ system in the body. This can lead to major health issues, such as stroke, headaches, coronary disease and heart failure.

The research found that 30 days after the illness, those who survived the condition had nearly a 60 per cent increased risk of death.

After six months, there were about eight deaths for every 1,000 people. But that increased to 29 among those who had been admitted to hospital with COVID-19.

Dr Al-Aly, who is also the director of the Clinical Epidemiology Center and chief of the Research and Education Service at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System, added: “These later deaths due to long-term complications of the infection are not necessarily recorded as deaths due to COVID-19. As far as total pandemic death toll, these numbers suggest that the deaths we’re counting due to the immediate viral infection are only the tip of the iceberg.”

The findings have been published in the journal Nature.

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