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Two million people have had long Covid, research suggests



Over two million people in England may have had long Covid, according to one of the largest coronavirus studies funded by the Government and published today has found.

The research is based on self-reported data from 508,707 adults from between September 2020 and February 2021, as part of the REACT-2 programme tracking past coronavirus cases.

Around a fifth reported previous Covid-19 symptoms. Of those, 37.7% said one of more symptom lasted at least 12 weeks – corresponding to over two million adults in England – while 9.5% said the symptoms lasted at least 12 weeks and were severe at the time of infection.       

NICE defines long Covid as ‘adults, children and young people who have new or ongoing symptoms four weeks or more after the start of acute Covid’. Acute Covid is defined as lasting up to four weeks.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme at Imperial College London, said the findings ‘paint a concerning picture of the longer-term health consequences of Covid-19, which need to be accounted for in policy and planning’.

They also suggest long Covid ‘is still poorly understood’ and ‘may ultimately affect millions of people in the UK alone’, he added.

People who still had symptoms at 12 weeks fell into two groups; the first was of those whose most common symptoms were tiredness and muscle aches, while people in the second suffered shortness of breath, tightness in chest and chest pain. More people reported severe symptoms in the second group.

The findings also suggested the risk of long Covid rises with age, with a 3.5% increase in likelihood for each decade of life. Persistent symptoms are also more likely in women, and people who are overweight, smoke, live in deprived areas or had been admitted to hospital.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘We are learning more about long Covid all the time and have made £50m of research funding available to support innovative projects, with clinics established across the country to help improve the treatment available.’

Health minister Lord Bethell said: ‘We are completely committed to backing innovative research projects into long Covid. They add to our body of understanding and help us develop better treatments to make sure people get the support they need.’

A UK study from March showed that most people hospitalised with Covid-19 are not fully recovered three months after discharge. Other research has indicated fatigue is the most common symptom of long Covid and may be as many as four different syndromes.

Health Education England chief nurse Mark Radford told Nursing in Practice that nurses who specialise in long Covid are needed across healthcare settings to respond to rising numbers of cases.