Healthcare news

One in 20 people with Covid-19 ‘still suffer symptoms eight weeks later'

 The research from King’s College London, using data from the Covid Symptom Study app, found potentially hundreds of thousands of people in the UK – and millions worldwide – have long Covid.
Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor

One in 20 people with Covid-19 are still suffering symptoms eight weeks later, while one in 50 are struggling after three months, according to a new study.

The research from King’s College London, using data from the Covid Symptom Study app, found potentially hundreds of thousands of people in the UK – and millions worldwide – have long Covid.

Symptoms of long Covid include ongoing fatigue, ongoing loss of taste or smell, respiratory and cardiovascular problems and mental health issues.

The new study, led by Dr Claire Steves and Professor Tim Spector, included data from 4,182 Covid Symptom Study app users who tested positive for Covid-19 following a swab and who have been logging their health on an ongoing basis.

The team found that older people, women and those with a greater number of different symptoms in the first week of their illness were more likely to develop long Covid.

Weight also played a role, with people developing long Covid having a slightly higher average body mass index (BMI) than those experiencing a short illness.

The study found that women were 50% more likely to suffer from long Covid than men, but only among the under-50s age group.

People with asthma were more likely to develop long Covid, although there were no clear links to any other underlying health conditions.

The study found that those experiencing more than five symptoms during the first week of illness were more than three times more likely to experience long Covid.

Meanwhile, those with long Covid were twice as likely to say their symptoms had come back again after initial recovery compared with those having a short illness (16% compared to 8.4%).

It comes as other data from Public Health England (PHE) suggests around 10% of people with Covid-19 not admitted to hospital have reported symptoms lasting more than four weeks.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens told a conference of health professionals on Wednesday: “It’s a real thing. It looks as if perhaps 10% of people who’ve had coronavirus have lingering symptoms for up to three months after having had Covid.

“And then a smaller minority, some estimates say about 60,000 people across the country at the moment, have got symptoms that persist three months and beyond.”

Prof Spector said the new King’s study showed that as well “as worrying about excess deaths, we also need to consider those who will be affected by long Covid if we don’t get the pandemic under control soon.”

He added: “As we wait for a vaccine, it is vital that we all work together to stem the spread of coronavirus via lifestyle changes and more rigorous self-isolating with symptoms or positive tests.”

On Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock issued a new film on how people are living with the long-term effects of coronavirus.

It features the stories of four people left unable to live normally after Covid-19 and is part of a wider national Hands, Face, Space campaign.

The film calls on the public to continue to wash their hands, cover their face and make space to control the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Hancock said: “I am acutely aware of the lasting and debilitating impact long Covid can have on people of all ages, irrespective of the seriousness of the initial symptoms.

“The findings from researchers at King’s College London are stark and this should be a sharp reminder to the public – including to young people – that Covid-19 is indiscriminate and can have long-term and potentially devastating effects.

“The more people take risks by meeting up in large groups or not social distancing, the more the wider population will suffer, and the more cases of long Covid we will see.”

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “As we continue to learn more about Covid-19, it is clear that a significant minority of patients are suffering the aftereffects for weeks or months after contracting the virus.

“New specialist centres across the country will see respiratory consultants, physiotherapists, other specialists and GPs, all help assess, diagnose and treat patients who are suffering, and so it has never been more important that everyone does what they can to reduce the risk of spreading the virus by following the Hands, Face, Space guidance.”

Health minister Lord Bethell said: “The evidence is worrying – Covid-19 is clearly having a long-term impact on some people’s physical and mental health.

“We are moving quickly to stand up rehabilitation facilities and recovery services.

“These are becoming more accessible with the opening of specialist clinics across England.

“The NHS England long Covid taskforce will have a big impact, bridging between our research and the care people need.

“But the public must continue to be aware their behaviour has a huge impact on the spread of this virus and they must take the necessary precautions.”

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